The Downballot: Missouri Dems filibuster GOP into submission (transcript)

Democrats may be in the minority in the Missouri Senate, but you wouldn't know it after they staged an epic filibuster that just forced Republicans to abandon a cynical ploy to undermine direct democracy and thwart abortion rights.

Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is state Sen. Lauren Arthur, one of the participants in Democrats' record-breaking legislative marathon. Arthur breaks down the GOP's scheme to con voters into making it harder to amend the state constitution and explains how Democrats hung together through a 50-hour filibuster to protect cherished civil rights.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday's primaries, punctuated by Angela Alsobrooks' victory in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat in the face of a $60 million onslaught. The Davids also highlight a big flip in Alaska, where a Democratic-backed independent is on course to unseat Anchorage's far-right mayor once final votes are tallied.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode. New episodes come out every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast, dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. You can subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode.

Beard: We've got another busy primary night to cover.

Nir: We do indeed. There were primaries across the country on Tuesday, so we are recapping the top races, including a contest in Maryland that could prove to be history-making in November. There were also interesting races in West Virginia and far across the country in Alaska, where a runoff was held for Anchorage mayor that saw Democrats flip a very important post.

Then for our deep dive, we are talking with Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, who just participated in a record-setting filibuster to prevent the GOP from undermining direct democracy in the state. It's an amazing conversation. Lauren walks us all through a talking filibuster, just like you see in the movies. There is a ton to discuss, so let's get rolling.

Nir: Well, we had a ton of primary action on Tuesday night, but we have to start with the big race and I am really, really happy about this result in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat. I think this was just a fantastic outcome and I am super happy with the candidate that Democrats nominated.

Beard: Yeah, there were two main Democratic candidates in the race for the open seat, Representative David Trone and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. They're both from the Washington area, which is interesting because there wasn't really a Baltimore candidate. And Trone spent a ton of money here, and so he led a lot of the early polling, but Alsobrooks closed great. She ended up winning by, I think, a larger margin than anyone expected, really, going into the night.

She's currently up 54-42 on Trone. There is a decent chunk of mail ballots that came in late, that are still to be counted in Maryland. So that margin could adjust a little bit, but being up 12 points, the AP called it for her. So she's going to be the Democratic nominee. There's still a decent chunk of mail ballots out still to be counted, later this week. She'll definitely move on to the general election against former Governor Larry Hogan.

Nir: Yeah, we'll talk about the general election in a second, but the primary was really something because Trone didn't just self-fund the race, he broke records. He spent more than $60 million of his own money, which almost beats the all-time self-funding record for an entire Senate race, but that includes a general election. That record is actually held by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who's also up for re-election this fall, but Trone smashed all records for primaries. He was able to do this because he is the owner of a giant liquor store retail chain called Total Wine, and there's no question that he was sure all along that his money would provide him the definitive advantage and the reason why he was going to win this primary, in his mind. He started advertising on TV almost a year before the race. He wound up outspending Alsobrooks by, I think, around 10 to one.

The margin was completely ridiculous, but the reason why Alsobrooks won is because she had a real base of support. That really understates it. She has such widespread support, and I think affection, among Maryland's Democratic political establishment, and that counts for a ton. And we're going to see this theme come up again later in this show, but having that built-in base of support matters so, so much, and I think that this proves that money cannot simply overcome the connections, and party building, and networking that Alsobrooks has engaged in for many, many years. Trone's only been in office for a few terms. He just simply didn't have the deep network that Alsobrooks had and money wasn't the substitute.

Beard: Yeah, and we've seen this before with candidates who primarily self-fund because they don't have to raise money, and so they don't have to engage within the greater party infrastructure in the same way that candidates who raise money have to and often continually do throughout their careers. I'll also say that Trone was a congressman. He was in D.C. Obviously, Alsobrooks is in a suburb of D.C., Prince George's County, but is very much more within the Maryland political structure. But we saw the federal Maryland Democrats, who you think might side with a fellow congressman, largely side with Alsobrooks, which I think is a pretty clear sign to a voter as to who these folks, who are elected officials, really think would be the better senator in these instances.

I'll also add that there was an interesting figure thrown around on Twitter on Tuesday night where money — like we said — does not decide races, but money still matters. Because I saw a tweet to you about, oh, money doesn't matter, which is not the case. There are three counties in Maryland's Eastern Shore that have a different media market than the rest of the state, which is covered by either the Baltimore media market or the Washington D.C. media market, where Trone spent a significant amount of money and Alsobrooks spent no money because she was more limited in her funds and focused on the two big media markets.

And those three counties were some of Trone's best counties and in fact much, much better for Trone than the other Eastern Shore counties in Baltimore's media market where he still won, but he won by a much narrower margin. So it's one of those things where you can clearly see how money matters, but it's not definitive. Other things matter too, as we saw ultimately with the endorsements and Alsobrooks's overall campaign.

Nir: Yeah, money has diminishing returns. I think the important thing is to have enough to run a credible campaign and get your message out there, which Alsobrooks certainly did. But after a certain point, it probably doesn't help a whole lot in moving the needle.

So now we're on to the general election. Republicans were excited. They felt that they had gotten a recruiting coup when they got former Governor Larry Hogan, who served two terms and was quite popular when he left office in 2022, when they got him to say he was going to run for Senate, even though he had previously really crapped on the idea of serving in the Senate.

But the reality is, as we have mentioned before on the show, it's much easier to win a state's governorship if you're from the out party than it is to win a Senate seat. We have seen this story so many times, Steve Bullock in Montana, Linda Lingle in Hawaii, Ted Strickland in Ohio, Phil Bredesen in Tennessee. It's just an incredibly hard lift, and Hogan can pretend all he wants that a victory for him would not undermine abortion access for women, but voters are not that naive. They understand that the Senate is governed by parties and there will be a lot of ads run, making very clear that Hogan will be a vote for whoever replaces Mitch McConnell.

So Hogan would have to win a ton of folks who are ready to vote for Joe Biden, because Joe Biden's going to win the state by large margin, in order to somehow defeat Alsobrooks. In addition, there is a measure on the ballot in November, in Maryland this year, that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. Hogan has a crappy record on abortion.

What is he going to say when he's asked how he's voting on that measure? It's one thing to pretend, oh, I would never change a law, yada yada. Okay, but now we do have an opportunity to change a law for the better, do you support it? No. So I am a huge skeptic about Hogan's chances. I know that Mitch McConnell was talking him up recently, but of course, Mitch McConnell's going to say that. Anyway, I really don't see this race as being a major focus once we get to November.

Beard: Yeah, and one of the big factors around this governor versus Senate aspect is a lot of governor's races take place in midterms, with smaller electorates who are not voting for the president at the top of the ticket, and priming them at that partisan level for most people. So for him to go from running, well, he first won the governor's race in 2014, which was a very Republican year, and then he was able to play the incumbency on the feeling that his governorship was a success, into reelection in 2018 — also a midterm year, even though it was a better year for Democrats.

He hasn't had to run in a presidential year with a Democrat at the top of the ticket, winning Maryland by likely more than 30 points. And that is such a huge, enormous deficit to overcome without even getting into, like you said, all the arguments around, hey, you're going to go to D.C. and you're going to vote for Mitch McConnell's or Republican successor to lead the Senate. You're either going to block Biden's judges or you're going to facilitate Trump's judges.

There are a lot of things you're going to be party line about because that's how Congress works, and so I totally agree with you. I'm very, very skeptical of this race even being close by the end of the day. I think ultimately, Hogan ran for Congress twice before he became governor. I think he toyed around a lot with the national spotlight and potentially running for president in some form or fashion, but ultimately he just seemed like a guy who really wanted to run for office again, and this ended up being where he ended up, but I don't think he's terribly likely to win.

Nir: So we have a few more primaries from Tuesday night to discuss. Maryland also had a few open House seats due to retirements, and also Trone running for the Senate. In the third district, which is very blue turf in the Baltimore area, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth defeated former Capitol police officer Harry Dunn. She is, as of this recording, up 35-25. This puts her on a glide path to joining Congress next year because, like I said, this is a solidly blue seat and there is almost no chance of Republicans flipping it in November.

This to me, was another interesting race, somewhat comparable to the one we were just talking about, because Harry Dunn was a huge hero for his service on Jan. 6th when he defended the Capitol against the riot. He became a very prominent figure, and he raised an enormous, enormous sum of money, more than $4 million from small donors all across the nation, and that made him a force to be reckoned with. But he didn't live in the district. You don't have to live in the district, as we know, but he didn't live in the district.

His ties weren't quite as strong and Elfreth, a little bit like Alsobrooks, did represent a good chunk of the district. She did have good ties to the political establishment and she also benefited from a lot of outside spending. AIPAC came in big for her, but at the end of the day, it was that personal direct tie to the area that wound up winning the race for her.

Beard: Yeah. Dunn had some really interesting national endorsements. In fact, former speaker, Nancy Pelosi endorsed Dunn and it really seemed from a D.C. perspective that he was the leading figure and was probably the favorite. So it was definitely a little bit of a surprise. Of course, as you mentioned, Elfreth had significant outside help monetarily to keep up with the money that Dunn had raised, and I think once she was able to be competitive financially on the air, her ties, as you mentioned, really came through a big chunk of that district had voted for her before for the Senate and of course was comfortable voting for her to send her to Congress.

So I think that's another piece of evidence that these local ties, and the experience that you have in lower office, are a great way to set yourself up. That's not the only way to get to Congress, but I think if you look overall, the most common way to get to Congress is to have a lower office where people know and have supported you in the past, and we see that here with Elfreth.

Nir: I think that the example of Harry Dunn might also be quite relevant for another primary that's coming up next month down in Virginia in the open 7th District where Eugene Vindman, another hero of the resistance as it were, has also raised huge sums nationally. His identical twin brother Alexander Vindman was the chief whistleblower in the Ukraine matter that ultimately led to Trump's first impeachment. But Vindman doesn't have particularly strong ties to that district, and so we will see once again, whether it's the establishment and local roots versus a huge infusion of grassroots money that carries the day.

Beard: Yeah. The interesting question I think in comparing these two districts, is whether there is an Elfreth-type character with both the local support, and either funding internally or funding from an outside group that's going to make that person competitive with Vindman's money. Because I could see Vindman getting a similar percentage of support as Harry Dunn getting like 25% or so, but in this case, if there's not a single opponent who's going to get 35 or 30%, he could easily win that primary. There's not a runoff in Virginia and he could go on and be the nominee with that lower level of support if there's not a consolidation around another candidate.

One other race that we want to note from Maryland is the Baltimore mayor's race where incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott defeated former mayor Sheila Dixon. He's currently up 51 to 41 as of this recording. Dixon was the mayor a number of years ago. She resigned after being convicted of embezzlement. She ran again and narrowly lost to Scott four years ago, and was back for another try. Scott seems to have defeated her more comfortably this time, and he of course will sail to the general election as Baltimore is an extremely, extremely Democratic city.

Nir: One interesting thing about Scott is that he is the first Baltimore mayor in quite some time to win two full terms at the ballot box. There's been a lot of turnover, people leaving office early due to scandal and resignation like Dixon did. The last person to do so was Martin O'Malley. O'Malley didn't wind up serving out two full terms, but that's because he wound up becoming governor in 2006. So Scott's success could see this become a potential stepping stone for him for future higher office.

Beard: The other state that had a ton of competitive primaries on Tuesday night was West Virginia. Of course in this case, they were mostly on the Republican side, whereas in Maryland, we mostly focused on the Democratic side. The race that had the clearest front runner was the Senate primary where Governor Jim Justice easily won. He crushed his opponent. Congressman Alex Mooney, 62-27, and is almost certainly going to be the next senator from West Virginia replacing retiring Democrat Joe Manchin.

Nir: The much more contested race was the Republican primary for governor. We mentioned this one before. This was the most disgusting Republican primary we have seen in quite some time. The entire race was focused on each candidate trying to prove that they were more transphobic than the next guy. Every single campaign and every single outside group was running ads, just trying to demonstrate to voters just how transphobic they are. And the winner of this disgusting contest was Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

He defeated Del. Moore Capito who is the son of Shelley Moore Capito, the state's other senator, by a 33-28 margin. Morrisey, of course, lost to Joe Manchin in 2018 by what wound up being a surprisingly close margin; Republicans had kind of given up on him in that race and Manchin won. But it was by no means a blowout and probably a key reason why Manchin decided to retire ahead of this election. Anyway, just like Jim Justice, Morrisey is just about dead certain to become the state's next governor, and he is going to be an absolutely foul figure.

Beard: Yeah. There's really no candidate to root for in this. All of them were terrible. None of them took any sort of more positive path through the West Virginia Republican primary, which I doubt would've been a good idea. They probably all ran the race that made them most likely to win. It's just unfortunate that a race involved them being transphobic and awful throughout the entirety of the primary campaign. The most interesting thing you can say about it was that Morrisey's support in the northern part of the state was able to carry him through relatively poorer showings in the southern part of the state, particularly because the other candidates had a tendency to split the support, whereas Capito won a number of counties in the southern part of the state including the county with the capital of Charleston.

He also lost a number of counties to the third-place finisher Chris Miller, which meant that Morrisey's northern support, including some a few counties in the south, was able to carry the day with only 33% of the vote.

Nir: So clear across the country about as far across the country as you can possibly get, we had another super interesting race on Tuesday night. This was not a primary. This was a runoff for the mayor's position in Anchorage Alaska and we had a flip. Suzanne LaFrance, who previously was a member of Anchorage's equivalent to a city council, appears to have ousted incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson. She was up 45 the day after the election. There are still an unknown number of ballots left to count, but media reports all indicate that there aren't enough for Bronson to make up the difference, which is currently about 5,000 votes.

If LaFrance hangs on as it certainly looks like she will, she would be the first woman ever elected as mayor of Anchorage, which of course is by far Alaska's largest city. Now, this race was nominally nonpartisan, but as they almost always are in high-salience races like this one these days, the battle lines were quite clear.

Bronson is a far-right Republican while LaFrance is an independent, but she had been endorsed by the Anchorage Democratic Party. Bronson ran a very typical GOP playbook. He tried to attack LaFrance as woke and in the grips of some crazy far-left ideology. And LaFrance responded by running a pretty non-ideological campaign. She focused on questions about Bronson's competence and his penchant for getting into fights and issues like snow removal, which obviously is pretty damn important in Alaska. In the end, we saw which kind of campaign won out. It was the one about issues that actually matter to people, not the one about crazy paranoid fearmongering.

Beard: Yeah. Bronson won his first race three years ago, very, very narrowly. So I think the forces in opposition to him, which included both the center and the left, had a clear target to say that this person was too far right. He certainly governed that way and they were able to consolidate the anti-Bronson support behind this independent candidate with the Democratic Party support, as you said.

And it looks like that was enough to overcome any incumbency advantages that he might've accrued over the past three years. And so it looks like, hopefully, Anchorage is going to get a much better mayor.

Nir: So interestingly, even though more than a third of the state lives in Anchorage, the mayoralty hasn't really been much of a stepping stone for Republicans, but it has for Democrats. The last two Democrats who represented Alaska in the US Senate, Mark Begich and Tony Knowles, both served as mayor before seeking higher office.

Now, we should probably wait until LaFrance is actually sworn in before we start talking about her next steps, but who knows? We could be hearing more about her in the future.

Beard: Yeah. There are plenty of Republicans to take on in Alaska, so we will see where that might go.

Nir: Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up on our deep dive, we are talking to Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, who just participated in a historic filibuster to thwart the GOP's efforts to undermine direct democracy in the state of Missouri. It is a fantastic conversation. Please stay with us after the break.

 

Nir: Democrats in the Missouri state Senate have just emerged victorious after a historic filibuster in defense of direct democracy that could have major implications for abortion rights. Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is state Sen. Lauren Arthur, one of the participants in this record-breaking marathon, to explain the stakes to us and tell us exactly what is going on. Lauren, we could not be more grateful to you for taking the time to talk with us. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Lauren Arthur: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much for highlighting this issue that's important for Missourians, but also I would argue, says a lot about the state of our democracy.

Nir: Absolutely. So before we get to the filibuster, I think we need a little bit of background here. The background is that Republicans want to put an amendment on the ballot on the same day as Missouri's August 6th primary this summer, which would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution in the future. So what exactly would that GOP amendment do?

Arthur: So I'll start by talking a little about the initiative petition process. It's a really helpful tool when Missourians feel like their legislators are not responding or they're refusing to act on certain issues that are important to them, Missourians can collect enough signatures and send that issue to voters directly. In order for that to pass, it requires a majority vote. Missourians have approved things like Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage, and recreational and medical marijuana through the initiative petition process.

Republicans in Missouri, obviously they disagree with a lot of those positions and they want to make it harder to amend the state constitution. They would require that a majority of five out of eight congressional districts approve that measure. And we've seen some analysis that indicates as few voters as 23% of Missouri voters could defeat a ballot measure. So basically the effect of that is it would dilute the voices of those who live in more populous areas like Kansas City and St. Louis, and it would give more power and weight to the votes of those in rural Missouri.

Nir: This sounds awfully familiar because Republicans have been very open about their intentions, many of them at least. They want to stop an amendment, an initiative petition as you called it, that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, which currently looks likely to appear on the November ballot. Organizers just submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures, and if it passes, it would reverse Missouri's near-total ban on abortion.

But as we saw just last year in Ohio, Republicans tried almost the exact same thing, and their effort failed very badly when they tried to make future amendments harder, that failed, and then abortion rights did pass there. Missouri Republicans have an idea to overcome what I think is a very natural resistance among voters to curtailing their own rights, which they've called — and opponents have called — 'ballot candy.' What exactly does that term mean? Because that is a very unusual term.

Arthur: Yeah. As you said, I think Republicans recognize that the measure will be incredibly unpopular and that people understand and support the concept of one person, one vote. So the idea of ballot candy, they've tried to add in language that is completely unrelated to the idea of making it more difficult to amend the Constitution, but these are going to be things that appeal to more conservative voters and frankly that seem common sense.

So things like they included language that non-citizens shouldn't be allowed to vote. That's already the case in Missouri. It is illegal. It is clearly defined, and there is no threat that non-citizens would gain the right to vote in Missouri elections on an initiative petition.

But they think that if voters show up to the polls, don't know what is going to appear before them on the ballot, they'll see that initial language and think 'That makes sense, I'm going to vote for that' and move on without realizing that they're actually undermining their own voting power. The reason they call it ballot candy is, basically, that it sweetens the measure so that it's more appealing and appetizing to Missouri voters.

Beard: Now, Republicans have wide majorities in both chambers of the Missouri legislature, but the state Senate is unusual in that filibusters are allowed, but your filibuster operates pretty differently from the one in the US Senate that I think most of our listeners are familiar with. So how does that work and walk us through the decision to start this filibuster?

Arthur: Yeah, absolutely. The Missouri Senate is a unique and special institution where any senator can decide to stand up, and we have a standing talking filibuster. So if someone wants to oppose a piece of legislation, he or she or they can stand up and talk on the motion or the legislation before the body. And usually, that's used to force compromise. Sometimes it can be used effectively to kill legislation, but it requires that people are standing and talking. And the Senate Democrats have been doing that for the last 50 hours where throughout the course of that time, someone was standing and making the case that this is really wrong-headed for the state of Missouri. And I have been awake for so long. I think I forgot your original question.

Beard: Totally understandable. Yeah. My other part to the question was the decision to launch a filibuster against this legislation specifically.

Arthur: Yeah. So because we only have 10 members in a body of 34 senators, we really have to pick and choose our battles. And this is such a fundamental issue protecting one person, one vote. It is foundational to our democracy. It is about fairness and justice and protecting the things that we hold dear as a democracy. So Democratic senators actually allowed that legislation to pass out of the Senate earlier this year because the whole time we've said, we really oppose the idea that you're going to make it more difficult to amend the constitution. But if you insist that that is a priority, we just want to make sure that it's a fair fight. That voters are informed. That they can read language that tells them what the amendment would actually do, and we trust voters to make the right decision when they understand what it is they're voting on.

So Democratic senators, once they cleaned that ballot candy off back in February and sent a clean version of the resolution, Democratic senators sat down voted no, and said, "Okay. We'll let that continue through the process." It was when it returned that it had that ballot candy on, and at that point, we just felt like it was such an important issue that we didn't want to in any way allow the GOP to try to deceive and lie to Missouri voters. It's just not right. So we felt really strongly that this was something we had to dig in.

Nir: So you mentioned that the Missouri Senate's filibuster is a talking filibuster, and that makes it very, very different from the United States Senate. And I think the talking filibuster is what most people think of when they hear that word. They imagine a sort of Mr. Smith goes to Washington kind of situation, and you actually have been living that. So walk us through what that's like. When exactly did it start? Are you taking turns? Is there anything you can and can't do? Are Republicans hoping to trip you up and catch you in a momentary second to try to end the filibuster? How does that all work?

Arthur: Yeah. So with the standing filibuster, basically someone seeks recognition, and then the way that the Democrats prefer to filibuster is by inquiring to one another. So we've had our filibuster partners and we work in shifts. Senators have stood and debated on the resolution.

We've talked about other important priorities, our vision for the state, and a couple of random topics about recommended movies, TV shows, and music to help fill those three hours, which can feel a little bit long when you're just standing up and talking. I mean, it's physical. You're standing at your desk for three hours at least. Some have picked up extra shifts and really helped out. It's been an incredible team effort, and I'm really proud of everyone for stepping up and sacrificing sleep, and at times hydration, and talking at all hours of the night.

We have decided that it was probably in our best interest to not be super hostile or aggressive towards the GOP, and that's because we're very aware that they do have a tool to shut down debate. And what's interesting is other Republican senators have actually filibustered more than Democrats this year. I don't know if that's the case after this really long filibuster, but Republican senators had been using the filibuster to basically attack other Republican senators.

And it's not unlike what we see in DC where some GOP senators were calling other GOP senators RINOs because they weren't taking hardline positions; they weren't being really aggressive in their attacks. So Republicans have really used the filibuster more than Democrats, and we just wanted to be respectful of the process and didn't want to antagonize anyone so that they might consider voting in favor of that motion that would shut down debate and force a vote on the worst version of this resolution.

Beard: Now, the Republicans that a lot of people are familiar with are these very aggressive Republicans that are eager to steamroll any and all opposition using any tool available. So it seems a little surprising that Republicans in the Missouri state Senate aren't just eager to use this motion that you just mentioned. Can you talk a little bit about the hesitancy from them on using it and why they haven't just gone full bore?

Arthur: Because of that division within the Republican Party, some Republicans have had a really hard time passing legislation and not even for Republican priorities. They've had a difficult time passing just basic governance kinds of bills. So for example, last week, the Senate debated the budget, and if not for Democratic votes, Missouri would not have a budget sent to the governor by the constitutional deadline.

So Democrats have been willing partners because we think that our state agencies should be funded. We know the importance of, for example, the renewal of something that is a self-imposed tax on hospitals so that they can fund our Medicaid program. As Democrats, we could have used all of those things as leverage, we could have teamed up with the guys who are trying to obstruct and cause chaos in the Senate and prevent any legislation from going forward. Democrats could have teamed up with that and made life very difficult for the Republicans and Senate leadership.

Instead, we believe in good governance. And if something is common sense, if something needs to get done for Missourians, Democrats have been good partners and we've negotiated in good faith on other legislation that might be a little bit more controversial. I think we have earned a little bit of goodwill. If they were to invoke that PQ or that nuclear option, everyone also understands that that's the end of the session, no other bills pass, and that it would have serious and long-lasting implications for the next session when the Democrats would come in and they would probably start from a very aggressive position.

Nir: That PQ, that's the motion for a previous question, but that only takes a simple majority in order to succeed. But what you're saying is this bitter division between these GOP factions, maybe, almost makes it impossible, despite the fact that they have, of course, a numerical majority to find a practical majority on the floor to call this previous question and shut off debate on the filibuster. They don't need a supermajority like in the US Senate, just the simple majority, but they still can't get it.

Arthur: That's correct. Yeah, exactly.

Nir: So as a result of all of this Democrats standing so strong and united together and taking shifts on filibusters throughout the night combined with really bitter GOP infighting and Republicans in disarray. On Wednesday afternoon, it sounds like you had a real breakthrough, a huge one, so tell us all about that.

Arthur: Yeah. I think there was pretty broad agreement and understanding that Senate Democrats were not going to back down and that there really was not a path forward to shut down the debate. And so the sponsor of the legislation made a motion to send this resolution to committee, or the House can recede from its position, which has all of that ballot candy, and make a determination going forward. There may be a conference committee where people meet and I don't think that the Democrats will, in any way, relent on that ballot candy issue. So if anything comes out of that committee, then we would expect it to be a clean bill.

Nir: And the legislative session ends at 6:00 PM local time on Friday, so there's a very limited clock for them to get this done.

Arthur: Yeah, that's correct. I should also mention the conference committee. We have Democrats and Republicans from the Senate, and then the House gets to assign its Republicans and Democrats as well to conference and hash out those details. But we are up against a hard deadline, 6:00 PM on Friday. There were... I mean, not unexpectedly… the really hardline Republicans were unhappy with this decision and they made that very clear and decried it on the floor. We will wait and see whether or not they're going to allow any other business to come before the body and whether or not we'll make it to 6:00 PM on Friday.

Beard: It seems like the two most likely outcomes here are either maybe nothing goes on the ballot or the clean version of the amendment goes onto the ballot, going back to this idea of the five of the eight congressional districts needing to pass any future amendments. So if that is on the ballot, you sounded like Democrats are going to campaign against it. How do you think it'll fare at the ballot box and what is the main campaign against it going to look like?

Arthur: Well, I think it will definitely be defeated and defeated resoundingly. There are so many people whose lives have been improved thanks to the initiative petition process and measures that Missouri voters have supported. And so I think they have a clear understanding of its importance and I don't think anyone wants their voices to count for less.

Like I said, I represent a purple district. We're talking about Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in my district, and I can't imagine a world in which any of them want their vote to count less than someone else's in a different part of the state. I think voters will get it and I also think that voters understand that this is a really cynical attempt to try to make it harder to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. There is a lot of movement and momentum to have that issue on the ballot in November. I think that they've collected, I don't know, two or three times more signatures than required in order to send that to voters. And I think this is a pretty brazen and obvious attempt to make it harder for people to make decisions about their bodies.

Nir: We have been talking with Democratic state Sen. Lauren Arthur of Missouri who just participated in a successful filibuster to get the GOP to back down from a diabolical plan to lard up a ballot measure with so-called ballot candy in order to entice voters to give up their rights to direct democracy. Lauren, thank you so much again for taking the time to talk with us. Before we let you go, how can Downballot listeners learn more about your efforts in the state Senate in Missouri and also about the various ballot measures that may be on the ballot this fall?

Arthur: Well, thank you so much for highlighting these efforts. Thankfully, we have great local journalists who have been here throughout the 50 hours along with the rest of us. I'll give a shout-out to the Missouri Independent, St. Louis Public Radio, the Kansas City Star, and the people who have helped cover this issue locally. With the Senate Democrats here in Missouri, we're few but mighty, and we're hoping to grow our numbers in this next election.

Nir: Where can folks find you online on social media?

Arthur: You can find us on Twitter—old habits die hard—or X at MoSenDems. We have an Instagram page @mosenatedemocrats, Facebook is MOSenDems, and Threads @mosenatedemocrats, and you can find me on X @LaurenArthurMO.

Nir: Lauren, thank you again for coming on "The Downballot."

Arthur: It was my pleasure. Thank you again.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to state Sen. Lauren Arthur for joining us. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing thedownballot@dailykos.com. If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

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A flamethrower and comments about book burning ignite a political firestorm in Missouri

A longshot candidate for Missouri governor and his supporters describe his use of a flamethrower at a recent “Freedom Fest” event outside St. Louis as no big deal. They said it was a fun moment for fellow Republicans who attended, and that no one talked about burning books as he torched a pile of cardboard boxes.

But after the video gained attention on social media, State Sen. Bill Eigel said he would burn books he found objectionable, and that he'd do it on the lawn outside the governor's mansion. He later said it was all a metaphor for how he would attack the “woke liberal agenda.”

“From a dramatic sense, if the only thing in between the children in the state of Missouri and vulgar pornographic material like that getting in their hands is me burning, bulldozing or launching (books) into outer space, I’m going to do that,” Eigel said in an interview with The Associated Press. “However, I would I make the point that I don’t believe it’s going to come to that.”

Experts say Eigel's use of the flamethrower is a sign that rhetoric and imagery previously considered extreme are now being treated as normal in American politics. While Eigel didn't actually destroy books, his later statement about burning ones he deemed offensive ratcheted up fears that the video's circulation and his words on social media could help take the U.S. to a darker place.

“The slippery slope is that everything is a joke — everything can be kind of waved away,” said Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor of public communications at American University in Washington. “Everything can be seen as just rhetoric until it can’t anymore and people start using it as an excuse to actually hurt people.”

The 30-second video that put Eigel at the center of a social media storm is from a Sept. 15 event for Republicans at a winery near tiny Defiance, Missouri, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of St. Louis. He and another state senator shot long streams of flame onto a pile of cardboard in front of an appreciative crowd.

The video posted on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, caught the attention of Jonathan Riley, a liberal activist in Durham, North Carolina, who posted Sunday that it showed “Missouri Republicans at a literal book burning," though he'd later walk that statement back to a “metaphorical” book burning.

“It fit a narrative that they wanted to put out there,” Freedom Fest organizer Debbie McFarland said about claims that Eigel burned books. “It just didn’t happen to be the truth.”

Some of Republicans' skepticism over the online outrage stems from Eigel's status as a dark horse candidate to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Mike Parson. The best known candidates for the August 2024 GOP primary are Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

The Ashcroft campaign declined to respond to the video, the uproar it caused or Eigel's follow-up statement. Kehoe's campaign had no official comment, but Gregg Keller, a GOP consultant working on Kehoe’s campaign, said Eigel’s promise to burn objectionable books is “typical electioneering hyperbole.”

He added, “I would challenge you to find me any non-psychotic Republican who has actually burned” a book deemed objectionable by conservatives.

Eigel posted on the X platform that his flamethrower stunt was meant to show what he would do to the “swamp” in the state capital of Jefferson City, but “let’s be clear, you bring those woke pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too -- on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.”

Republicans across the U.S. are backing conservative efforts to purge schools and libraries of materials with LGBTQ+ themes or books with LGBTQ+ characters. The issue resonates with Republicans in Missouri. An AP VoteCast survey of Missouri voters in the 2022 midterm elections showed that more than 75% of those voting for GOP candidates thought the K-8 schools in their community were teaching too much about gender identity or sexual orientation.

The outcry also comes after Missouri's GOP-supermajority Legislature banned gender-affirming health care for transgender minors and required K-12 and college students to play on sports teams that match their sex assigned at birth. Eigel has sponsored measures to ban schools from teaching about gender identity or gender-affirming care and to make it a crime to perform in drag in public.

Aggressive and even violent imagery have long been a part of American politics. It can sometimes backfire.

Large guns have been a popular prop for some Republicans. Last year, a Black candidate seeking the GOP nomination in an Arizona congressional district aired an ad in which he held an AR-15 rifle as people wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods tried to storm a home. He finished last.

In Missouri in 2016, GOP candidate and ex-Navy Seal Eric Greitens ran an ad featuring him firing 100 rounds from a machine gun on his way to winning the governor’s race. After a sex and invasion-of-privacy scandal in 2018 forced him to resign, he attempted a political comeback in the state’s 2022 U.S. Senate race, running an ad featuring him with a shotgun declaring he was going hunting for RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. He finished third in the primary.

Flamethowers also have popped up previously. In 2020, a GOP congressional candidate in Alabama showed her support for then-President Donald Trump by torching a mockup of the first articles of impeachment against him. She finished third in the primary. And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem’s staff gave her a flamethrower last year as a Christmas gift.

Experts who study political extremism said images involving fire or bonfires have long been associated with extremist groups. Eigel’s critics quickly posted online images involving the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi book burnings before World War II.

Evan Perkoski, an associate political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said it's been “traditional” for extremist groups to use images of fire to “simultaneously intimidate people and signal their intentions to destroy what exists and to rebuild or start over.”

“We’ve seen this time and time again from groups across countries where groups will burn effigies, crosses and other items, or even just film themselves around large conflagrations,” he said in a email to AP. “A large part of their motivation is the symbolic, frightening nature of fire.”

Experts continue to worry about how social media can spread extreme or violent images or words to potentially millions of people, increasing the chances of a single person seeing the material as a call to violence.

Javed Ali, a former senior FBI counterterrorism official who's now an associate professor at the University of Michigan, said law enforcement agencies struggle with thwarting homegrown political violence. He said the sheer volume of social media postings means, “Sometimes, you almost have to get lucky in order to stop it."

Braddock, the American University professor, said that after portraying a flamethrower as a weapon against “the woke agenda,” Eigel's supporters don't need “that big a leap of logic” to see it as a tool for settling actual political grievances. Talking about book burning enough can plant the idea in people's minds so that ”people think it’s actually a righteous thing to do."

Ali added: “That’s a pretty dangerous game to play.”

Eigel said he’s not worried the video will inspire violence in “reasonable, everyday Missourians,” which he said is the majority of people. But he said he’s concerned about the number of threats he, his family and his staff have received as a result.

A flamethrower and comments about book burning ignite a political firestorm in Missouri

A longshot candidate for Missouri governor and his supporters describe his use of a flamethrower at a recent “Freedom Fest” event outside St. Louis as no big deal. They said it was a fun moment for fellow Republicans who attended, and that no one talked about burning books as he torched a pile of cardboard boxes.

But after the video gained attention on social media, State Sen. Bill Eigel said he would burn books he found objectionable, and that he'd do it on the lawn outside the governor's mansion. He later said it was all a metaphor for how he would attack the “woke liberal agenda.”

“From a dramatic sense, if the only thing in between the children in the state of Missouri and vulgar pornographic material like that getting in their hands is me burning, bulldozing or launching (books) into outer space, I’m going to do that,” Eigel said in an interview with The Associated Press. “However, I would I make the point that I don’t believe it’s going to come to that.”

Experts say Eigel's use of the flamethrower is a sign that rhetoric and imagery previously considered extreme are now being treated as normal in American politics. While Eigel didn't actually destroy books, his later statement about burning ones he deemed offensive ratcheted up fears that the video's circulation and his words on social media could help take the U.S. to a darker place.

“The slippery slope is that everything is a joke — everything can be kind of waved away,” said Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor of public communications at American University in Washington. “Everything can be seen as just rhetoric until it can’t anymore and people start using it as an excuse to actually hurt people.”

The 30-second video that put Eigel at the center of a social media storm is from a Sept. 15 event for Republicans at a winery near tiny Defiance, Missouri, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of St. Louis. He and another state senator shot long streams of flame onto a pile of cardboard in front of an appreciative crowd.

The video posted on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, caught the attention of Jonathan Riley, a liberal activist in Durham, North Carolina, who posted Sunday that it showed “Missouri Republicans at a literal book burning," though he'd later walk that statement back to a “metaphorical” book burning.

“It fit a narrative that they wanted to put out there,” Freedom Fest organizer Debbie McFarland said about claims that Eigel burned books. “It just didn’t happen to be the truth.”

Some of Republicans' skepticism over the online outrage stems from Eigel's status as a dark horse candidate to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Mike Parson. The best known candidates for the August 2024 GOP primary are Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

The Ashcroft campaign declined to respond to the video, the uproar it caused or Eigel's follow-up statement. Kehoe's campaign had no official comment, but Gregg Keller, a GOP consultant working on Kehoe’s campaign, said Eigel’s promise to burn objectionable books is “typical electioneering hyperbole.”

He added, “I would challenge you to find me any non-psychotic Republican who has actually burned” a book deemed objectionable by conservatives.

Eigel posted on the X platform that his flamethrower stunt was meant to show what he would do to the “swamp” in the state capital of Jefferson City, but “let’s be clear, you bring those woke pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too -- on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.”

Republicans across the U.S. are backing conservative efforts to purge schools and libraries of materials with LGBTQ+ themes or books with LGBTQ+ characters. The issue resonates with Republicans in Missouri. An AP VoteCast survey of Missouri voters in the 2022 midterm elections showed that more than 75% of those voting for GOP candidates thought the K-8 schools in their community were teaching too much about gender identity or sexual orientation.

The outcry also comes after Missouri's GOP-supermajority Legislature banned gender-affirming health care for transgender minors and required K-12 and college students to play on sports teams that match their sex assigned at birth. Eigel has sponsored measures to ban schools from teaching about gender identity or gender-affirming care and to make it a crime to perform in drag in public.

Aggressive and even violent imagery have long been a part of American politics. It can sometimes backfire.

Large guns have been a popular prop for some Republicans. Last year, a Black candidate seeking the GOP nomination in an Arizona congressional district aired an ad in which he held an AR-15 rifle as people wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods tried to storm a home. He finished last.

In Missouri in 2016, GOP candidate and ex-Navy Seal Eric Greitens ran an ad featuring him firing 100 rounds from a machine gun on his way to winning the governor’s race. After a sex and invasion-of-privacy scandal in 2018 forced him to resign, he attempted a political comeback in the state’s 2022 U.S. Senate race, running an ad featuring him with a shotgun declaring he was going hunting for RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. He finished third in the primary.

Flamethowers also have popped up previously. In 2020, a GOP congressional candidate in Alabama showed her support for then-President Donald Trump by torching a mockup of the first articles of impeachment against him. She finished third in the primary. And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem’s staff gave her a flamethrower last year as a Christmas gift.

Experts who study political extremism said images involving fire or bonfires have long been associated with extremist groups. Eigel’s critics quickly posted online images involving the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi book burnings before World War II.

Evan Perkoski, an associate political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said it's been “traditional” for extremist groups to use images of fire to “simultaneously intimidate people and signal their intentions to destroy what exists and to rebuild or start over.”

“We’ve seen this time and time again from groups across countries where groups will burn effigies, crosses and other items, or even just film themselves around large conflagrations,” he said in a email to AP. “A large part of their motivation is the symbolic, frightening nature of fire.”

Experts continue to worry about how social media can spread extreme or violent images or words to potentially millions of people, increasing the chances of a single person seeing the material as a call to violence.

Javed Ali, a former senior FBI counterterrorism official who's now an associate professor at the University of Michigan, said law enforcement agencies struggle with thwarting homegrown political violence. He said the sheer volume of social media postings means, “Sometimes, you almost have to get lucky in order to stop it."

Braddock, the American University professor, said that after portraying a flamethrower as a weapon against “the woke agenda,” Eigel's supporters don't need “that big a leap of logic” to see it as a tool for settling actual political grievances. Talking about book burning enough can plant the idea in people's minds so that ”people think it’s actually a righteous thing to do."

Ali added: “That’s a pretty dangerous game to play.”

Eigel said he’s not worried the video will inspire violence in “reasonable, everyday Missourians,” which he said is the majority of people. But he said he’s concerned about the number of threats he, his family and his staff have received as a result.

Missouri town to host Loser-palooza for Jan. 6 rioters, and not everyone is happy about it

What is it with America and its penchant for celebrating failed, deadly insurrections launched in the name of white supremacy? We had that whole Civil War business in the mid-1800s, and that probably should have settled the issue once and for all. But we let Confederacy-humpers hang around like a bad bathroom chandelier, and so on Jan. 6, 2021, they tried again.

And now they’re so enamored with their bumblin’ coup, they’re holding events to honor the perpetrators. Because nothing says “I’m sorry” like a $9 Costco sheet cake that actually says, “Nice Try, Traitor—Better Luck Next Time!”

The town of Rogersville, Missouri, will host a Loser-palooza this weekend for a passel of peeps the organizers are oddly referring to as the “J6 community.” And not everyone is happy about it.

RELATED STORY: Music to Trump's ears: Whitewashing Jan. 6 riot with song

Called the J6 Truth and Light Freedom Festival, the event runs Friday through Sunday in Rogersville and is supposed to feature numerous speakers, live and via Zoom. Some are facing multiple felony charges in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack and one recently was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

“An amazing weekend of love and support for our J6 community!” says a flyer being circulated about the event. “Bring your RV, tent, lawn chairs and the whole family for this annual gathering of the Jan6 community!”

Nice to know J6 rioters are a “community” now. Of course, it makes perfect sense. Bashing in cops’ heads with flagpoles is hard work, and everyone needs to pitch in. You know, like when Amish towns all get together to raise one lazy fuck’s barn that he can’t be bothered to raise himself.

But those who monitor extremist groups say the festival raises concerns about the potential for future violence.

“These events are really important to watch,” said Chuck Tanner, research director at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which has tracked extremist activity for decades. “You see at them the contours of a movement stretching from the halls of government to far-right publications and groups — and a movement that continues to frame January 6 insurrectionists as martyrs and build out a framework for another far right, nationalist insurrection.”

Good point. After all, OG insurrectionist Jefferson Beavis Trump is still at large, and we’ve even heard rumors that he’s running for president. Which is almost too outlandish to believe given that he literally tried to end American democracy, but I swear I read that somewhere.

Sadly, conservatives have been doing their best to normalize the events of Jan. 6, 2021, pretty much since the evening of Jan. 6, 2021, when Fox News, et al., openly speculated that the riot had actually been launched by liberal agitators who had inexplicably decided to disrupt the election of the guy they’d voted for and desperately hoped would win. And when the Senate voted to acquit Trump during his second impeachment—and Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Kevin McCarthy decided once again to find succor at Donald John Trump’s oleaginous, heaving bosom—Insurrection 2.0 was officially underway.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center noted on the second anniversary of Jan. 6, the danger Trump and his followers posed to our democracy on that fateful day has arguably grown.

We have also learned that white supremacy and hard-right extremism have been normalized and mainstreamed to a dangerous degree. White supremacist groups played a lead role in organizing, coordinating and executing the deadly Capitol attack and in other efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. SPLC Intelligence Project experts submitted testimony to the [House Jan. 6] committee on how extremist groups and individuals – like the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and white nationalist Nick Fuentes – have infused once-marginalized, white supremacist ideas into mainstream Republican discourse and politics with the goal of maintaining a grip on power and silencing communities of color.

The threat of political violence substantially increased in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack. According to a June 2022 poll jointly conducted by the SPLC and Tulchin Research, the mainstreaming of hate and antigovernment thought, and the willingness to engage in political violence, are now widely accepted on the right.

According to promotional materials distributed by the organizers, the festival is “a closed event only for J6’ers and their families.” Which is odd, considering how proud they appear to be about their gaffe riot. 

Nicole Reffitt, one of the scheduled speakers, said in a video posted by Sedition Hunters that the event would be “mostly peaceful.” She appeared to be “joking,” but then these are the same people who support the guy who wants you to believe the rioters were hugging and kissing the Capitol Police.

Apparently the event celebrating the violence at the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021 in Rogersville, MO sponsored by @godfatherspizza will be "mostly peaceful" hope @FBIKansasCity is keeping an eye on things https://t.co/uNFn6qTik6

— TheRealJ6 (@SeditionHunters) June 28, 2023

Meanwhile, members of the non-white-nationalist-insurrection community remain alarmed over the troubling lack of political consensus that attempting to overthrow your own democracy is a bad thing. The Star spoke with Don Haider-Markel, a University of Kansas political science professor and an expert on extremism, who remarked that the festival had a “pretty narrow appeal” but was nevertheless emblematic of a bigger—and festering—problem. 

“But I definitely think it’s further evidence of the sort of radicalization of the far right,” he noted. “It allows participants to essentially publicly express their identity. That not only reinforces those identities, but it also can tend to radicalize people further.”

Of course, you’ll hardly be surprised that the lineup of event speakers is worthy of a TED Nugent Talk. Scheduled to appear are Oath Keepers founder and convicted seditionist Stewart Rhodes; Micki Witthoeft, the mother of insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, whom Donald Trump indirectly killed; and George Tanios, a rioter who was charged with providing another insurrectionist with the pepper spray that was used on three Capitol officers, including Brian Sicknick, who died the day after the insurrection. Tanios later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, but his participation in this event suggests he’s not into the whole remorse thing.

“They’re trying to create the historical view that these people did the right thing, that they were the patriots that stood up to the government corruption, that they were there to save our Constitution,” Daryl Johnson, a former senior analyst for domestic terrorism with the Department of Homeland Security, told the Star. “These people believe that God’s on their side, and they are these righteous truth-holders that are protecting our country. That’s why they’re calling it the Truth and Light Rally. Light means you’re enlightened, and the other people aren’t. And celebrating these people that participated in the riot by calling them patriots is keeping that fervor alive for the 2024 election.”

RELATED STORY: Five singers from Trump's pro-J6 tune have been identified. They're not 'very fine people'

Check out Aldous J. Pennyfarthing’s four-volume Trump-trashing compendium, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Or, if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.   

Chief justice temporarily blocks Title 42 end, indicates further action from court could come soon

Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday temporarily halted the Biden administration’s planned lifting of the anti-asylum Title 42 order, granting a so-called emergency appeal from a slate of Republican attorneys general. “So-called emergency appeal,” because the appeals court panel that had last week denied the GOP request noted that the group of 19 attorneys general had waited too long to file their request.

The Biden administration had planned to lift the debunked public health order that’s used the pandemic as an excuse to quickly deport asylum-seekers in violation of their rights Tuesday evening, following a lower court order. Roberts instructed the administration to respond by this evening, indicating more action could be imminent. Legal expert Mark Joseph Stern noted that Roberts’ administrative stay “does not hint at the eventual outcome.”

RELATED STORY: D.C. Court of Appeals panel rejects GOP effort trying to keep anti-asylum policy in place

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Republicans have simultaneously claimed that the Biden administration has an “open borders” policy while insisting that the Title 42 policy—which was implemented against the advice of public health experts by noted white supremacist Stephen Miller and Mike Pence at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020—must stay in place indefinitely. They have also insisted this public health order remain as they’ve consistently challenged other pandemic-related orders by the administration.

“The Biden administration, for its part, has insisted it is prepared to lift Title 42, saying the restoration of regular immigration procedures, such expedited deportations, will allow the U.S. to gradually reduce migrant arrivals and the high rate of repeat crossings recorded during the pandemic,” CBS News reported.

That last part is crucial: Title 42 in fact led to an increase in apprehensions, because desperate people blocked from their asylum rights and expelled have had no choice but to try again. It’s a failed policy, and its lifting would put our country back on the side of respecting U.S. and international asylum law. In a statement, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that as required by Roberts’ order, “the Title 42 public health order will remain in effect at this time and individuals who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will continue to be expelled to Mexico.”

“While this stage of the litigation proceeds, we will continue our preparations to manage the border in a safe, orderly, and humane way when the Title 42 public health order lifts,” Mayorkas continued. “We urge Congress to use this time to provide the funds we have requested for border security and management and advance the comprehensive immigration measures President Biden proposed on his first day in office.”

House Republicans set to take power in the next Congress have indicated they’re serious about leading on immigration policy … by pushing a harebrained idea to impeach Mayorkas. Over what crimes? They haven’t figured that part out yet.

Vice President Kamala Harris similarly noted the need for lawmakers to lead on comprehensive immigration measures, and she called out for Republicans for failing to come to the table. They obsess on the issue of immigration only when it’s election season (my words, not hers). For example, a proposed framework that would have passed permanent relief for young immigrants in exchange for harsh border measures recently failed, derailed by Republicans’ “border first” excuses even though there was border stuff in there.

"I think that there is so much that needs to happen to address the issue," the vice president told NPR. "And sadly, what we have seen in particular, I am sad to say, from Republicans in Congress is an unwillingness to engage in any meaningful reform that could actually fix a lot of what we are witnessing.”

RELATED STORIES:

Biden admin set to lift anti-asylum Title 42 order next week, but GOP appeal may now delay that

'Arbitrary and capricious': In victory for asylum-seekers, judge orders end to Miller pandemic order

Testimony confirms Title 42 was never about public health, it was about deporting asylum-seekers

The Downballot: The Kansas abortion earthquake, with Quinn Yeargain (transcript)

Kansas rocked the political world on Tuesday night, rejecting an attempt to amend the state constitution to strip away the right to an abortion in a massive landslide. In this week's edition of The Downballot, we pick apart the vote with law professor Quinn Yeargain, an expert on state constitutions. Yeargain explains how the amendment came to be on the ballot, what might've caused the huge spike in voter turnout, and what lessons Democrats should take away from the election (hint: abortion rights are popular, so lean into them).

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday's other key races, including Trump picks prevailing in Senate races in Arizona and Missouri (if you allow that "ERIC" nonsense); a pro-impeachment House Republican going down to defeat in a Michigan seat Democrats are now better-positioned to flip in November; and the return of the notorious Kris Kobach, who narrowly won the GOP nod for Kansas attorney general and could once again jeopardize his party's chances in a race Republicans have no business losing.

Please subscribe to The Downballot on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard:

Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir:

And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. The Downballot is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency from Senate to city council. You can subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts, and we'd be grateful if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple podcasts.

David Beard:

Primary season is back in full force this week and we have a ton to cover. So what are we going through today?

David Nir:

Oh man, do we ever. We are going to be wrapping up results in Kansas, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington. And of course, we are going to be spending a lot of time talking about that state constitutional amendment vote that went down in massive flames on Tuesday night. We're going to be talking about that with law professor Quinn Yeargain, a long-time Daily Kos Elections community member and an expert on state constitutions. So, so much to dive into. Let's get started.

David Nir:

We have a ton of elections to catch up on from Tuesday night. Number one, of course, on everyone's lips is the Kansas constitutional amendment that would have stripped the right to an abortion from the state constitution. It went down to defeat in flames by a huge double-digit margin, about 18 points. We are going to get into that one in great depth with our guest on this show coming up in the second part of this program, but there is one other Kansas race, though, that we do want to mention. That's the Republican primary for state attorney general. That position is open this year and the GOP primary was won by Kris Kobach, the former secretary of state, who you'll remember from his disastrous 2018 bid for governor. He was so awful that he played a key role in allowing Democrat Laura Kelly to flip that seat. Kelly is up for reelection this year.

David Nir:

Kobach also ran for Senate in 2020 and Republicans were so worried that he could jeopardize that race, too, that they spent millions of dollars to successfully stop him from getting the nomination. Outside Republican groups really didn't try to stop Kobach this year and there's a chance that his sheer and unique awfulness will put this race into play. He faces Democrat Chris Mann in November.

David Beard:

And Kobach, of course, has near-universal name recognition among Republican primary voters after such contested races over the past four years. So the fact that he only got 42% of the Republican primary vote here shows that there are a ton of Republicans who did not want him to be the nominee and who could potentially vote for the Democrat in November.

David Nir:

Over to Arizona. We also had a bunch of hot races there. In the GOP primary for governor, it still has no call from the Associated Press, but former TV anchor Kari Lake, who is Donald Trump's pick, leads Karrin Taylor Robson by about 2% of the vote. In a great irony, Robson won the vote that was tallied on the earlier side while Lake dominated among the vote that came in on Election Day. Lake is an extreme Big Lie conspiracy theorist who is exactly the sort of Republican who would scream about the results shifting after Election Day, except, of course, they've shifted in her favor this time. She is looking like the likely nominee at this point and she will take on Democrat Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state, who won her primary easily. This is for an open seat held by term-limited Republican governor Doug Ducey.

David Nir:

Of course, Arizona also has an extremely high-profile race for Senate where Blake Masters won with 39% of the vote. He is the candidate backed by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and also Donald Trump. He will face Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, who, of course, won the special election to flip this seat two years ago. Kelly has absolutely dominated in fundraising. Polls show him with small leads. Of course, Republicans are going to do everything they can to try to take this seat back, but right now it looks like Kelly has a small edge.

David Beard:

Then up in Michigan, there were a number of really important races that took place on Tuesday. We'll start at the top with the governor's race, where conservative commentator Tudor Dixon comfortably won the GOP nomination for governor with 41% of the vote and she'll be facing Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer, who will seek a second term. Of course, this race was shaken up after two leading candidates where dropped from the Republican primary ballot after fraud was discovered in their election petitions, which left, really, a total lack of a frontrunner and real lack of clarity. Of course, Tudor Dixon started to come to the front and then Trump endorsed her, which very much solidified her position as the frontrunner and so she'll face Whitmer this November.

David Beard:

Then there were two congressional incumbents who were defeated in Michigan on primary night. We'll start in the 3rd District where John Gibbs defeated GOP incumbent Peter Meijer, who, of course, was one of 10 Republicans to vote for Donald Trump's impeachment, which painted a very large target on his back, of course, by Trump and many others in the Trumpist wing of the party. It ended up being very close. Gibbs won by 52 to 48 margin. I think the expectation was that Gibbs would win a little more comfortably than that, but of course margin doesn't matter when you've advanced to the general election. Gibbs will go on to face Hillary Scholten in November in a seat that Biden won by 9 points, so should be highly competitive.

David Beard:

Then in the 11th District, two democratic incumbents were paired together after redistricting and representative Haley Stevens defeated Andy Levin in this matchup, winning by about 60% to 40%. Stevens and Levin each won their parts of the district fairly comfortably, but Stevens really dominated in the part of the district neither of them had represented before, which led to her comfortable victory.

David Nir:

One really unfortunate thing about this outcome is that Levin was a rather well-liked member of Congress, especially among progressives and labor and a lot of folks, not just commentators like ourselves, but other members of Congress really felt that he should have run in the open 10th District. That is certainly a much more difficult district. It is very narrowly divided, whereas the 11th is comfortably blue-leaning. Of course, Levin, if he had run in the 10th, might nonetheless have lost in November, but he at least would've had a stronger chance of returning to Congress. The fact that he got blown out 60 to 40 is really an unsurprising result that I think a lot of folks had anticipated.

David Nir:

Moving over to Missouri, we had a hotly contested GOP primary for the state's open Senate seat, but it turned into a landslide there. State Attorney General Eric Schmitt won with 46% of the vote. He beat Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who took just 22% and disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens' finish with just 19%. This, of course, is the race where the day before the election, Donald Trump oh so cleverly decided to endorse ERIC in all caps so that way he wouldn't have to decide between Eric Schmitt, who the GOP establishment greatly preferred, and Eric Greitens, who, because he is an alleged abuser, Donald Trump preferred. Trump did totally hate Vicky Hartzler, reportedly, because she refused to back off her criticisms of Trump's behavior around Jan. 6. So Trump gets his Eric, and Schmitt will now face off against Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine. This is a seat that Republicans are overwhelmingly favored to hold.

David Beard:

Lastly, we'll wrap up in Washington state where we have partial results. Of course, Washington state is almost entirely vote by mail and as a result, many of the ballots will come in the days to follow, obviously, as long as they've been postmarked by Election Day, but we do have a significant chunk of results and so we can look at the results in the two Congressional races where GOP representatives who voted to impeach Donald Trump were facing Trumpist challengers who were trying to knock them out of the top two slot. Of course, in Washington state, everyone runs on one primary ballot and the top two finishers in the primary advance to the general election. And it's looking like as of now, with the results that we have, both Jaime Herrera Beutler in the 3rd District and Dan Newhouse in the 4th District will be able to advance to the general election in the top two slot for November.

David Beard:

Right now, in the 3rd District, we've got Marie Perez, who is the main Democrat leading with 32% of the vote. We've got Herrera Beutler in second place with about 25% of the vote and Joe Kent, who is the Trump-endorsed candidate, on 20% of the vote and that's with about 57% estimated in. And then in the 4th District, Dan Newhouse is leading with 27% of the vote. He's the incumbent Republican. Doug White, the main Democrat, has 26% of the vote. He's in the second spot. And Loren Culp, who was the, again, Trumpist-endorsed challenger, has 22%, so in third place. And really, in both of these cases, the Trumpist candidates were hurt strongly by the clown car effect, for lack of a better term. There were four Republicans running against Herrera Beutler and they combined for over 35% of the vote, which would've comfortably led Herrera Beutler's 25%. And over in the 4th District, there were six Republicans challenging Dan Newhouse and the one Democrat and they combined for over 40% of the vote. Had one challenger been able to consolidate the Republican anti-Newhouse and anti-Herrera Beutler vote, there's a good chance they would've been able to advance and certainly, in the 3rd District, they would've advanced against the Democrat.

David Beard:

It's conceivable you would've ended up with Newhouse versus Trumpist candidate in the 4th District because that's much more a Republican district, but either way, it looks like both Newhouse and Herrera Beutler will likely advance and then will likely comfortably win their elections in November.

David Nir:

That means as a result, we might see as few as three of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment on the November ballot. The only other one with a guaranteed spot is David Valadao in California's 21st District. Liz Cheney still has her primary coming up, but she is looking very likely to lose. Valadao could also certainly lose the general election as well. So if Newhouse and Herrera Beutler hold on, they might be the only two pro-impeachment Republicans to make it into the 118th Congress.

David Nir:

That does it for our weekly hits. Coming up, we are going to be talking with state constitutional expert Quinn Yeargain about the amazing results out of Kansas and also interesting and quirky features of state constitutions nationwide. Please stay with us.

David Nir:

I am extremely excited to introduce our guest on today's show. Quinn Yeargain is an assistant professor of law at the Widener University Commonwealth Law School and they're also an expert on state constitutions and a longtime Daily Kos Elections/Swing State Project community member, so it's amazing to see someone who I originally knew in the comments section truly make good in this field. Quinn, thank you so much for joining us.

Quinn Yeargain:

It's fantastic to be here. And I'll just say I think I've been around since 2009 and a number of comments helped inspire some of my very, very first academic works. It's really been a wonderful community and I'm so glad to come back in this capacity.

David Nir:

That is truly fantastic to hear about that inspiration and what makes it all the more perfect is that the area of expertise that you have developed in state constitutions and state politics is exactly what we have to talk about on this episode. On Tuesday night, we, of course, saw Kansas voters reject an attempt to amend their state constitution by a massive landslide, 59-41 margin. This amendment would have said that the Kansas Constitution does not recognize any right to an abortion. And the most amazing thing about this, to me anyway, is that Republicans did this to themselves. They handed themselves this opportunity for this enormous defeat because they're the ones who put this amendment on the ballot in the first place. So Quinn, why don't you walk us through the background about how exactly we got here?

Quinn Yeargain:

Yeah. Kansas is a place that rather strangely, maybe, has had a pretty good string of Democratic governors in the last 15 years or so. And so as a result, for a while, a majority of the Kansas Supreme Court has been Democratic appointees. And so a few years ago, the Kansas legislature passed a pretty strict abortion ban on some second-trimester abortions, specifically dilation and extraction abortions. And several Kansas doctors challenged that in state court, arguing for the very, very first time to the Kansas Supreme Court that the Kansas Constitution's Bill of Rights actually is more expansive than the U.S. Constitution and contains an explicit and stronger protection of abortion rights than the U.S. Constitution does.

The Kansas Supreme Court was almost entertained by this argument because they pointed out nobody really litigates state constitutional provisions. Anytime that anybody's making an allegation that something violates a right or a liberty or something like that, they rely on the federal constitution, so this was the first time that they'd ever had the opportunity to actually rule on this. And in a 6-1 ruling that Kansas Supreme Court said, "Yes, there is a right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution," they used something akin to strict scrutiny, which is really, really critical of government regulation of particular rights to strike down this particular law.

But the effects of this, actually, weren't really all that clear. Kansas has had a Democratic governor again since 2019 with Laura Kelly and so the legislature hasn't had an opportunity to really try a whole lot to outlaw abortion. They have a veto-proof majority right now. It's not clear if it's actually a veto-proof majority to enact new abortion regulations and so the actual long-term impact of this ruling is not really all that clear. So in 2021, they proposed an amendment to the Kansas Constitution that said that there's no right to an abortion or government-funded abortions in the Kansas Constitution. And then they decided to schedule it in a way that coincided with the Republican primary, or all primaries in Kansas, in the hopes that it would ultimately benefit their side to have that, so they called a special election and happened to have it coincide with the primary election, then obviously, went down in flames and defeat.

David Nir:

You mentioned that Republicans put the amendment on the ballot, but they took that action in 2021. Do you know why it took so long, basically almost a year and a half, before it could actually come up for a vote?

Quinn Yeargain:

So they could schedule a special election for any time that they want, I believe, and so this is more my guess than a statement of fact, but I think that they decided that it would probably be to their advantage to do it when there was a contested Republican primary. At this point in 2021, I think it looked like there was going to be a contested Republican primary for governor. And in that event, high Republican turnout probably would've been really helpful. Obviously, that didn't end up being the case and Derek Schmidt won his nomination pretty much unopposed, seriously unopposed anyway, so it didn't end up panning out for that reason. But even in Kansas, when there's no real big contest, you're still going to get more Republicans turning out, especially in a primary election, than you are Democrats.

David Nir:

And yeah, on that note, it is pretty clear that they were hoping for generally low turnout in a summertime primary, perhaps juiced by this gubernatorial primary that really never came to pass, but we saw that backfire spectacularly. Just to put this in perspective, as of right now, more than 900,000 voters showed up on Tuesday. And many of them, as Beard noted on Twitter, only voted for the amendment. They didn't vote in other races. By comparison, in the 2018 general election, which saw an extremely heated race for governor, you had about 1 million voters, so we're talking turnout of almost 90% for a summertime primary compared to a general election. What do you make of that?

Quinn Yeargain:

I saw somebody on Twitter say that this is what happens when the dog catches the car. For years, Republicans have been pushing to overturn Roe v. Wade, to criminalize abortion and I don't think that they've really grappled with the electoral consequences of actually getting what it is that they've been organizing for the last 50 years. And you have this thing that is not wanted by the vast majority of Americans, the exact percentage, obviously, depending on how you ask the question, but Americans generally supporting Roe v. Wade and a lot of voters haven't really had to grapple with what do their votes mean when it does actually determine whether abortion is legal in their state or not. And that's where I think a lot of this comes from, that voters understood even with the bullshit way in which this amendment was written, which was terribly unclear, I think voters grasp that, "Okay. If this amendment passes, then the legislature is pretty much free to do whatever it wants to regulate or much more likely outlaw abortion altogether."

And I think that in that kind of context, when you don't have to sort through the issues, a candidate's platform, anything like that, you don't have to think really critically. It's really one thing that you care about on the ballot and that's what you have to show up and do. The stakes are really clear. It's really understandable. Voters get that and I think that it made it really easy for people to get involved. I think it also helps that when you're seen as doing this backhanded sneaky move of scheduling the election at a weird time, I think it's really easy for it to backfire and I think that it absolutely did that here. I think it's the exact same dynamic that in South Dakota two months ago, when, again, legislature put an amendment on the ballot in the primary election, voters came out in droves to oppose it. I think it's the exact same dynamic.

David Nir:

I did appreciate when Republicans on Twitter, as soon as it became clear they were going to go down to defeat, started complaining that the badly written ballot language, which was written by Republicans, as the reason that voters voted against the amendment, so that was a nice bit from after the election. But before the election, you actually went and predicted that the amendment would fail on Twitter in part, because, and I quote, "The surprisingly close outcome of similar amendments in more conservative states." And you also predicted it would be a margin of 8 to 10 points, which it, of course, ended up being even larger than that but that was fairly close, considering the close polling that had taken place before. So what led you to make that prediction?

Quinn Yeargain:

Well, what really inspired it was I saw a tweet that summarized a press briefing that the Kansas Secretary of State's Office had with reporters when they said that turnout was exceeding their wildest expectations and they'd previously disclosed a few days ago that they were anticipating high turnout. And so to hear that, that they're anticipating really, really, really high turnout that's higher than what they were anticipating anyway, which is already going to be high, that made me have the realization, that the dynamic that I just talked about. When you are trying to sneak something through and voters get wind of what's going on, I think that dynamic can flip on you where it can supercharge turnout in the exact opposite direction. It makes it easy for voters to turn out because like I said, there's one thing that they really care about on the ballot. It's easy for them to do it.

And if you look at the range with which states have ratified similar amendments, it’s all over the map. You have Alabama and Louisiana ratifying amendments like this with really, really high double-digit margins but then in Tennessee and West Virginia, only by single digits and it's pretty close. And the real difference is that in Tennessee and West Virginia, there were state-supporting court holdings on point that were the law in those states that said that there is an independent state constitutional right to an abortion. So by voting yes in those two states, voters were actually changing the status quo. But in Alabama and Louisiana, those constitutions have never been held to imply any sort of separate right to an abortion.

And Kyle Kondik had shared this really interesting article that came out last year on the status quo bias in ballot initiatives and that when push comes to shove, if an amendment or an initiative is going to change the status quo dramatically, “no” probably has something of a built-in advantage because voters aren't going to do something if they don't fully understand the consequences. All that stuff came together and I think that Kansas is a state that seems uniquely primed to not want something like this, despite its socially conservative reputation, because it's also a heavily suburban state. And if you supercharged suburban turnout, which seems like that's exactly what happened, then that suggested to me that it would lose by a fairly wide margin. I think that pretty much everybody's wrong assumption was that they were too conservative about how supportive of abortion rights they thought Kansans would be, which is a fun sentence that you didn't really think you'd get to say in 2022.

David Nir:

Speaking of that status quo bias, we've talked on this show about two other states where abortion will also be on the ballot this fall: Michigan, where activists are trying to enshrine abortion rights affirmatively into the state constitution, and then Kentucky, where an amendment similar to the one that just went down in flames in Kansas is going to be on the ballot. Now, Kentucky is a much more conservative state even than Kansas is. Trump won it by 26 points; he won Kansas by about 15 points. And also, Kentucky, based on your research as I understand it, does not have a similar State Supreme Court ruling that has said there is a right to an abortion, so you don't have that status quo bias in place. So what, if anything, do you think the Kansas vote says about the chances of defeating the similar amendment in Kentucky?

Quinn Yeargain:

I think it's tough. I mean, obviously, Kentucky is a much more conservative place, I think, maybe not in terms of always how it's voted in the past, obviously, at the state level, but in terms of the values that a lot of its voters have. 

It's a much more socially conservative place. I think that there are also fewer places that you'd logically anticipate might otherwise vote for Republicans, but would vote against something like this. I mean, you're really putting a lot of stock in the three Kentucky counties that are sort of the Cincinnati suburbs, really having sort of a hard left shift that they kind of had in 2019, but not as much and not as dramatically as Kansas. It all comes down to what the Kentucky courts do in the next few months.

As you know, a couple weeks ago, a Kentucky court blocked the state's abortion ban on state constitutional grounds. That ruling was later stayed, but it could well be the case that the Kentucky Supreme Court steps in at some point to issue some ruling. I'm pretty doubtful that they would come in and say, yes, there is a separate constitutional right to abortion in the Kentucky Constitution. It's a pretty conservative court. That would be pretty surprising to me. I guess if I really had to predict an outcome, I would say it probably narrowly passes, but I'm not confident enough in that. It wouldn't surprise me if there was some kind of backlash, but anticipating a double-digit win like in Kansas seems too optimistic.

David Beard:

Now, there're a ton of states that won't allow initiatives on abortion moving forward because of the variety of ways in which states govern and have rules around that. Folks are going to have to look to Democrats to protect abortion rights. Now, Trump, as Nir mentioned, won Kansas by 15 points, but the no vote prevailed by 18 points. So that's a massive, massive 33-point swing and it means that a hugely significant number of Kansas voters voted for Donald Trump and then voted against that amendment.

But of course, as we've seen in a lot of instances, voting on an amendment or an issue does not necessarily translate to voters voting for the party associated with that position on that issue. What can Democrats learn? What can progressives learn thinking through this and how to use this to motivate, to pull votes for Democrats in these states where you're not going to have an amendment to vote on for abortion rights?

Quinn Yeargain:

I think that the message kind of has to be that abortion is on the ballot, even where it isn't explicitly. I think that the idea that the sort of generic congressional ballot would have this kind of vacillation that it's had back to Democrats where I think it's tied in 538's tracker as of today, to me that's not something that really is all that common in midterm elections. Not to mention the fact that Biden's approval is obviously still really bad and Democrats are doing much better than you anticipate given that as well as general pessimism relating to the economy. And that suggests to me that there's some sort of fundamental shift in this country, that voters really do actually care about this in a way that maybe they're not actually showing to pollsters.

And I think that, especially in swing states—it’s probably less likely to be successful in really conservative states—Democrats have to lean into this message. I think at this point it is about base mobilization. It's obviously about persuasion too, but abortion is an issue where you can both motivate and persuade. I think that making the stakes really clear to voters that if you vote for a Republican, for governor, for legislature, they'll ban abortion. There's not a question about that. They'll ban abortion. And to the extent that they're saying, “Oh no, we won't,” a lot of them are on record saying that's exactly what they want to do.

There are these really draconian laws that maybe they never thought would ever come into effect, maybe where they were just test cases to get them the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. It doesn't matter because they can be the law now. So I think that in a way that they've never really had to in the past, Republicans really have to stand on their record on abortion. And it's not a record that I think a lot of voters are going to be sympathetic to once they learn a little bit more about it.

I think that rather than buying into the nonsense advice of just playing to pocketbook issues or something like that, they need to lean into something like this. Abortion is a pocketbook issue. Tell someone who is not of very much money in a very conservative state, that's bordered by other conservative states, who has to either take a flight or drive hundreds of miles to get an abortion, that's a pocketbook issue. And I think they're framing it in sort of that kind of economic justice way, I think that could be successful. I also think that again, this is something that you can both motivate and mobilize on. And so in the end, I think that this is a winning issue for Democrats.

David Beard:

Obviously, abortion is going to be the number one issue for the election going forward, at least for large segments of the population, but there are quite a few other ballot initiatives taking place in other states. And we want to keep an eye on those too. So what are some of the most interesting issues that are going to be going directly before voters this year?

Quinn Yeargain:

Well, in pretty much every state, there's something interesting on the ballot somewhere. Maybe it's interesting to just a really narrow sliver of the population and me on top of that, but it's interesting to someone somewhere. I think that one of the biggest things that is happening this year is Alabama is voting on what you might call a new constitution. Alabama has long had the longest constitution, not just of any state, but of any country or subnational entity anywhere in the world and it's bulky, it's overburdened, and they're voting on a new one this year. Hooray, it's going to be shorter. But even with all of the racist provisions cut out and all of the superseded provisions cut out, it's still going to be the longest constitution anywhere in the world. So maybe not that impactful on practice.

In terms of some attacks on direct democracy, there're two in Arizona that I think are significant to point out. Arizona does not have a single subject requirement for its initiated statutes and constitutional amendments. Single subject requirements are hardly ever applied in any sort of consistent way. And a lot of courts use them to strike down a lot of progressive initiatives. Florida, horrible offender on this. Arizona doesn't have one, but there is one on the ballot this year to add one.

They're also trying to raise the threshold required for initiated amendments in both Arizona and Arkansas to 60%. There hasn't been a huge effort in Arkansas to use the initiative process, but it's been used some in the last few years. There are some changes to the structure of state government. There's an amendment on the ballot in Arizona to create a lieutenant governor. There's also one in West Virginia that would bar any state court from exercising jurisdiction over impeachments. Hypothetically, should that ever be relevant again, definitely not based on the time that the state legislature launched a coup of the state Supreme Court in 2018, and some of the court stepped in to stop some of that.

And there're also some efforts in a couple states that would allow the legislature to call itself into special session. That's a really small, specific thing to point out, but in a lot of states, legislatures actually can't convene themselves unless the governor calls them at a session, and that affects a lot of things, like how long governor's appointments serve or appointees serve, administrative rules and regulations, and really limits the ability to legislature to check the governor. This is happening in a lot of states where there's been pushback to public health measures in particular. And if the legislature's out of session, it can't undo the governor's public health measures. So those are on the ballot in Arkansas, Idaho, and Kentucky.

There could be some election law changes. There's an early voting constitutional amendment in Connecticut finally, and there's going to be a top five primary election amendment on the ballot in Nevada this year. We mentioned some of the other abortion amendments. There's also going to be two, one in California, one in Vermont, that will add abortion protections to the state constitution. Neither of those currently has that. And then there's other various and assorted fun things: an affirmative right to health care in Oregon, something that is relevant given how frequently Senate Republicans have fled the state in Oregon. An amendment that would ban absentee lawmakers from running for reelection. Medicaid expansion in South Dakota and right to work in Tennessee.

David Beard:

So you mentioned the initiative to create a lieutenant governor position in Arizona. Many states now have lieutenant governors, but that wasn't always the case. It's one of the more interesting creations of American politics since the creation of the country, and you've done a lot of research into that. So tell us about sort of the evolution of lieutenant governors, and if you think there's a best way to handle this position out of the many, many ways states do so.

Quinn Yeargain:

Yeah. There're a lot of very specific things that I've chosen to focus on or obsess over in the last few years and lieutenant governors are one of them just because it's kind of a fun role. It's only relevant in a handful of cases, really just for stepping in when the governor vacates for whatever reason. That's just kind of a fun idea to me that there's a position specifically just for that.

In many cases in many states, that's literally all that it does. It doesn't have any other constitutional responsibilities. And most states did not have lieutenant governors. I mean, most states did not even have popularly elected governors in 1776 when a lot of state constitutions were drafted or even in 1789, when the U.S. Constitution was ratified. That happened over time, but they didn't have lieutenant governors either. In most states, the president of the state Senate became governor if there was a vacancy and this triggered a lot of very silly questions like, well, the state Senate president is a temporary job technically. What if somebody else is elected state Senate president? What happens then if they're the acting governor?

Most state courts answering this question said, well, then the position of acting governor switches to the new Senate president, which is really weird and really chaotic. There's also the question, if the state Senate president is acting as governor, do they actually become governor? And the answer is no, they don't. Well, okay. Do they then stay as state Senate president? And in some cases, the answer is yes. And so all sorts of really weird questions resulting in really unsatisfactory succession procedures, ultimately, and they very, very slowly produce this gigantic increase in the number of lieutenant governors.

One of the weirdest things to me is that this was an innovation from the North in Southern constitutions during reconstruction. Southern constitutions were quite anti-democratic, unsurprisingly, before the Civil War. And so they didn't have lieutenant governors in most cases. When northerners came down and a lot of them were at these state constitutional conventions, they created lieutenant governors, sometimes copied and pasted from their home constitutions. The Democrats in these states hated lieutenant governors with a burning passion. They specifically amended their constitutions and got rid of lieutenant governors and unloaded them with a burning weird passion. And it was only when a lot of these states again had problems with succession that they were recreated and they've ultimately been recreated in every state that they've been abolished in.

So it's just one of these weird things that the history of it is extremely specific, has a lot of really weird stories, and it's just one of these facets of modern state government that we don't really think about all that much. In terms of a model procedure, I think that team ticket elections are better than not just because I can't really imagine in most cases that voters are really making a conscious decision of, “Okay, I'm going to elect a Democrat as governor and a Republican as lieutenant governor. So if the Democrat governor vacates, then a Republican becomes governor.” I'm not sure that's a choice that voters are making a lot of the time.

I think they're just—you have somebody like John Bel Edwards in Louisiana that voters really like, and there's nobody comparably like that at the lieutenant governor level running in that race. So I think team ticket elections are better. I think that the idea of having separate primaries is kind of weird. It's been called a shotgun wedding and I prefer to think of it as a double blind experiment where voters are choosing a running mate for a gubernatorial nominee they don't know.

And you can't really do that because if you're trying to balance something out, you can't if you don't know what you're trying to balance. Some of the arguments in opposition to creating team ticket elections when this first happened in the 50s and 60s was, well, it's just going to encourage gubernatorial nominees to pick somebody who's going to balance the ticket. And it's like, yeah, that's the whole point. That's exactly why you do that to ensure some sort of geographic diversity and now some sort of racial diversity or gender diversity or ideological diversity. So I think the idea of separate primaries is not good. Where I don't—and this is I realize far more specific than the question you were asking—where I don't have a clear answer myself is whether there should be a rule that gubernatorial candidates have to pick a running mate before the primary, or if they can do it after the primary.

David Nir:

So Quinn, one other area that your work touches on, particularly with regard to state constitutions, is of course redistricting. And there was an unusual situation that together we explored at Daily Kos Elections and yourself, regarding Montana, which somehow is going to finish out the year 2022 without adopting new legislative maps, even though of course every other state has produced new legislative maps because we got census data last year from the 2020 census. So what did you uncover with Montana? Why are they so weird? Why don't they have new maps?

Quinn Yeargain:

This is the dumbest shit. So when the Montana Constitution was amended in the 1970s, it created a redistricting commission to draw state legislative and congressional maps. This is a bipartisan commission that's selected from the majority and minority parties and the state legislature. And then they picked a theoretically independent fifth member. And so the way that it basically works is different for each of those two responsibilities that it has.

So congressional maps, super easy. It gets the census data. It draws the maps and it files them with the secretary of state, easy. With state legislative maps, there are a couple of things that are intersecting in really weird ways. The kicker is that the legislature has to have the opportunity to provide feedback on the maps. This feedback is totally gratuitous and the commission doesn't have to take it into account, but it still has to provide it. So the basic confines are as follows: The commission gets the data from the Census Bureau. It has to hold at least one public hearing. And then at the next regular session of the legislature, whatever the next regular session is, it gives its map proposal to the legislature, gets its feedback on the proposal, makes any modifications it wants to, and then files them with the secretary of state.

Now at no step in that process did I say anything that explicitly, like to people who are listening really carefully, necessarily requires that this happened on an off cycle. The problem though is that the Montana legislature's regular session is once every two years in odd-numbered years. So if the redistricting commission doesn't get the data from the Census Bureau until the legislature's regular session is over, then it has to wait until the next regular session to give the legislature its proposed map.

To provide a specific example, last year, the states got their data from the Census Bureau in August 2021. The only regular session that the Montana legislature will have from 2021 through the end of 2022 ended in spring of 2021. So it was too late to do anything. So it has to wait until spring of 2023 to give its legislature that proposed map, get any gratuitous feedback that the legislature wants to provide—which it can totally ignore—make any revisions, and then file them with the secretary of state for some sort of election in 2024.

David Nir:

Now, the maps that Montana is going to use this year are badly malapportioned. Some districts have too many people, some districts have too few people. This would seem to violate the well-settled constitutional provision of one person, one vote, particularly because we have new and better census data. Could someone have sued to force Montana to make new maps earlier?

Quinn Yeargain:

They totally could have. It's really kind of astounding that nobody did. This was litigated in Maine, for example, with respect to congressional districts, which Maine was theoretically operating on a similar cycle as Montana until 2011, 2013. And it's astounding that nobody sued because what do you really have to lose? If you're Democrats in Montana, why not do it? You're in a permanent ... Probably a permanent minority for a while, unless the state radically changes. Why not upend everything and force new elections with new maps this year, rather than relying on these malapportioned maps?

I think the real challenge is it's obviously too late to sue now, and it's not necessarily clear if in the aggregate, the map is unconstitutional. The typical standard used by the Supreme Court basically says that if there's 10% population deviation between the largest district and the smallest district, it's probably okay. And if it's greater than 10% deviation, it's probably not. With relevant context, adding color as necessary. But there is at least a plausible case that this was unconstitutional, that it is unconstitutional. That at a bare minimum, the elections taking place this year are unconstitutional, but obviously nothing happened. But I think that's my perpetual frustration. There is a lot of stuff that happens that arguably violates one person, one vote or basic principles of settled election law that just go totally uncontested. Like the fact that the Nebraska special congressional election last month happened under the new district boundaries instead of the old district boundaries. Illegal, clearly illegal, but nobody sued. I don't know why. If I were barred in Montana, I would sue on their behalf, but I'm not.

David Nir:

Now, as we've mentioned, state constitutions can be quite unusual documents. They can vary a lot. So is there any particular provision or amendment that you found in your research that is really, really strange or out there?

Quinn Yeargain:

So there're two that I think are particularly interesting or funny. One of the ones is from 1934, when the state of Louisiana added a map to its constitution. One of the amendments was about highway routes that it was paving. And rather than specify where the highway routes were, they drew a map and added it into the constitution to say this is where the highway routes should go. And it's 1934. So it's not a great map with a lot of detail. And that's how the routes had to be drawn, with this map that was in the constitution.

And I first saw this, not even when I was looking at specific amendments, I was looking at a dated Louisiana Constitution from some year. And I saw a map in there and I thought there's no way. That doesn't make any sense. But indeed, I went back, looked at the specific amendment and indeed it appended a map to the Louisiana Constitution.

David Nir:

I have to ask, why couldn't they just pass a law or regular statute saying build the roads here. Why did they have to amend their constitution to do that?

Quinn Yeargain:

I think asking why didn't the Louisiana legislature simply pass a law instead of a constitutional amendment is a great question that I really wish that they had asked themselves between the years of 1920 and 1970. There was one year, for example, when there were enough amendments added to the Louisiana Constitution that it added a whole 65 pages to its constitution. Longer than most state constitutions anyway, but it added that year alone, 34 amendments added 47,000 words. So it's a great question. A great question.

David Nir:

But one with no answer.

Quinn Yeargain:

One with no answer. The second amendment that I came across that I just ... I really thought I misunderstood it at first as an amendment to the Colorado Constitution in the 1970s that said that before any nuclear device is put into the ground and detonated, it has to have been put to the voters and gotten their approval. And my first gut reaction to that was what are you talking about? Like what on Earth are you talking about? Are you talking about the U.S. government getting permission from voters before it ... Does it test? Are you talking about the Soviets, like petitioning for an initiative measure before they bomb Pueblo? What are you talking about? And it's not about that at all. It's actually about using nuclear devices to shake loose gas that's in mineral formations in the state so that it can extract the gas, which has been done a few times apparently, and was not well received by Colorado voters understandably.

So they pass an amendment barring the detonation of nuclear devices. It's still in the Colorado Constitution. If you live there, I think it's article 25 or 26 of the Colorado Constitution. It's still there. So it's still the case. So I guess any would-be nuclear powers up there—if Kim Jong-un is listening, you have to get the voters’ approval before launching a nuclear attack in Colorado.

David Nir:

I would love to see that litigated in court one day. We have been talking with Quinn Yeargin, who is an assistant professor of law at Widener University Commonwealth Law School, long time DKE and SSP community member. Quinn, it has been fantastic having you on the program and I hope we can have you back to talk about some more of these state elections soon.

Quinn Yeargain:

Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

David Nir:

That's all from us this week. Thanks to Quinn Yeargain for joining us. The Downballot comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach us by email at thedownballot@dailycoast.com. If you haven't already, please like and subscribe to The Downballot and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our producer, Cara Zelaya, and editor, Tim Einenkel. We'll be back next week with a new episode.

Tuesday Primary Preview: Trump’s Big Lie slate aims to go three for three in key Arizona races

Primary season is back in full force on Tuesday with major contests taking place in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington. Ohio voters will also go back to the polls for primaries for their state legislature, which were delayed because of redistricting litigation (primaries for the Buckeye State’s other offices took place as planned in early May).

Below you'll find our guide to all of the top contests, arranged chronologically by each state’s poll closing times. When it’s available, we'll tell you about any reliable polling that exists for each race, but if we don't mention any numbers, it means no recent surveys have been made public.

And of course, because this is a redistricting year, every state on the docket has a brand-new congressional map. To help you follow along, you can find interactive maps from Dave's Redistricting App for Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington.

Note that the presidential results we include after each district reflect how the 2020 race would have gone under the new lines in place for this fall. And if you'd like to know how much of the population in each new district comes from each old district, please check out our redistribution tables.

Our live coverage will begin at 8 PM ET at Daily Kos Elections when polls close in Missouri as well as most of Kansas and Michigan. You can also follow us on Twitter for blow-by-blow updates, and you’ll want to bookmark our primary calendar, which includes the dates for primaries in all 50 states. Lastly, you can track the outcomes of each of these key races with our cheat sheet, which we’ll keep continuously updated throughout election night.

Ohio

Polls close at 7:30 PM ET.

Kansas

Polls close at 8 PM ET / 7 PM local time in the portion of the state located in the Central time zone, where virtually all Kansans live, and an hour later in four sparsely populated counties along the state's western border with Colorado. Individual counties have the option to keep their polls open an extra hour.

KS Ballot (56-41 Trump): The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the state constitution protects abortion rights, but the Republican-dominated legislature has placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the primary ballot to change that. If a majority votes “yes” on Tuesday, then the legislature would have the power to end abortion in the state. A win for the “no” side, however, would keep the status quo intact. The only poll that’s been released was a mid-July survey from a Republican pollster on its own behalf that showed “yes” ahead 47-43.

Other Kansas races to watch: KS-AG (R)

Michigan

Polls close at 8 PM ET in the portion of the state located in the Eastern time zone, where almost all Michiganders live, and an hour later in four small counties in the Upper Peninsula along the state's western border with Wisconsin.

MI-Gov (R) (51-48 Biden): The Republican contest to face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer transformed dramatically in late May when a massive signature fraud scandal prevented former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who had been the frontrunner, and four other candidates from appearing on the primary ballot. One of the five remaining contenders, conservative radio host Tudor Dixon, soon earned the backing of former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and other members of her influential family, plus a last-second endorsement from Donald Trump. She’s posted leads in most recent polls, and national Democrats seem convinced that Dixon will advance as well, as they recently launched ads against her.

Self-funding businessman Kevin Rinke, who most surveys have had in second, has used his wealth to decisively outspend his rivals; Rinke has aired commercials faulting Dixon for accepting the help of DeVos, who resigned from Trump’s cabinet a day after the Jan. 6 attack. Another candidate, real estate agent Ryan Kelley, attracted national attention in June when the FBI arrested him on misdemeanor charges related to his role in the riot, but he’s struggled to turn that notoriety into votes. Chiropractor Garrett Soldano and pastor Ralph Rebandt are also running, while Craig is using his limited remaining funds in a long-shot effort to win the nomination through a write-in campaign.

MI-03 (R) (53-45 Biden): Freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, who was one of the 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump, faces primary opposition from a Trump-backed challenger, conservative commentator John Gibbs. The winner will go up against 2020 Democratic nominee Hillary Scholten, who faces no intra-party opposition for her second bid, in a Grand Rapids-based seat that Michigan's new independent redistricting commissions transformed from a 51-47 Trump seat to one Biden would have decisively carried.

Meijer and his allies have massively outspent Gibbs’ side, though the challenger got a late boost from Democrats who believe he’d be easier to beat in November. The DCCC launched an ad campaign in the final week declaring that Gibbs was "[h]andpicked by Trump to run for Congress" and saying he supports a "hardline against immigrants at the border and so-called 'patriotic education' in our schools." A pro-Meijer PAC quickly responded by running its own commercial arguing that Gibbs is actually the “handpicked candidate” of Nancy Pelosi.

MI-08 (R) (50-48 Biden): Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee is defending a seat in the Flint and Saginaw areas that’s a little more competitive than his current 5th District, and three Republicans are campaigning to face him.

The frontrunner is former Trump administration official Paul Junge, who lost to Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin 51-47 in the old 8th District in 2020. (The old and new 8th Districts do not, however, overlap.) Former Grosse Pointe Shores Councilman Matthew Seely, like Junge, has self-funded almost all of his campaign, though Junge has spent far more. The third candidate, businesswoman Candice Miller, shares her name with a former congresswoman who used to represent a neighboring seat, but she’s reported raising nothing.

MI-10 (D) (50-49 Trump): Five Democrats are competing to take on Army veteran John James, who was Team Red's Senate nominee in 2018 and 2020, in a redrawn seat in Detroit's northeastern suburbs that's open because of the incumbent-vs.-incumbent matchup in the 11th (see just below).

The most prominent contender is probably former Macomb County Judge Carl Marlinga, who was the county’s longtime prosecutor. The best-funded candidate, though, is attorney Huwaida Arraf, while Warren Council member Angela Rogensues also has brought in more money than Marlinga. Sterling Heights City Council member Henry Yanez and former Macomb County Health Department head Rhonda Powell are also in, but they’ve each struggled with fundraising. James himself faces only minor opposition in his own primary.

MI-11 (D) (59-39 Biden): The Democratic primary in the new 11th is a duel between a pair of sophomore House members, Haley Stevens and Andy Levin. Stevens' existing 11th District makes up 45% of this revamped seat in Detroit’s northern suburbs, while Levin’s 9th is home to another 25%. Retiring Rep. Brenda Lawrence represents the balance of this district, and she’s backing Stevens.

Stevens and Levin have largely voted the same way while in Congress, though while Levin has emphasized his support for Medicare for all and the Green New Deal, Stevens has portrayed herself as more pragmatic. The congresswoman has enjoyed a huge financial advantage over her colleague; outside groups, led by the hawkish pro-Israel organization AIPAC, have also outspent Levin’s allies by a lopsided margin. A recent independent poll showed Stevens ahead 58-31.

MI-12 (D) (74-25 Biden): Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is one of the most vocal progressives in the House, faces a prominent intra-party challenge from Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey. Two other candidates, former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson and Lathrup Village Mayor Kelly Garrett, are also running, but they haven’t attracted much attention. The three challengers, like a large portion of the electorate in this Detroit-based seat, are Black, while Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants.

Tlaib, whose existing 13th District makes up 53% of the new 12th, has far outspent Winfrey, who has faulted Tlaib for casting a vote from the left against the Biden administration's infrastructure bill. However, a newly established group called Urban Empowerment Action PAC has gotten involved to help Winfrey, and it’s responsible for most of the more than $600,000 that’s been spent on her side.

MI-13 (D) (74-25 Biden): A total of nine Democrats are competing in an extremely expensive contest to succeed retiring Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who is Michigan's only Black member of Congress, in a seat that includes part of Detroit and its southern suburbs. The top spender by far is state Rep. Shri Thanedar, who unsuccessfully sought Team Blue’s nomination for governor in 2018 before winning his current office two years later; Thanedar, who is originally from India, is the only candidate who isn’t Black.

State Sen. Adam Hollier, meanwhile, has benefited from over $6 million in outside spending promoting him and attacking Thanedar. Most of this has come from AIPAC, but VoteVets and the crypto-aligned Protect Our Future have also expended considerable sums. Lawrence, for her part, is supporting Michigan Civil Rights Commissioner Portia Roberson.

A recent independent poll showed Thanedar leading Roberson 22-17, with Hollier at 16. The field also includes hedge fund manager John Conyers III, who is the son and namesake of the late former congressman, and former Detroit General Counsel Sharon McPhail, who each clocked in with 7%, as well as Detroit School Board member Sherry Gay-Dagnogo and Teach for America official Michael Griffie.

Missouri

Polls close at 8 PM ET / 7 PM local time.

MO-Sen (R) (57-41 Trump): Republicans have a crowded contest to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt in this conservative state, though only three―former Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler―appear to have a shot at the nomination. The field also includes Rep. Billy Long, state Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, and wealthy attorney Mark McCloskey, but none of them have registered much support in the polls.

Early surveys gave the lead to Greitens, who resigned from the governorship in 2018 in the face of multiple scandals. The candidate, though, has been on the receiving end of millions of dollars worth of ads from a super PAC that, among other things, has highlighted his ex-wife's accusations that Greitens physically abused both her and their children in 2018.

Hartzler, for her part, has the backing of Missouri’s other senator, Josh Hawley, but her efforts to get the biggest endorsement in GOP politics went badly: In early July, Trump publicly announced that he “will NOT BE ENDORSING HER FOR THE SENATE.” Instead, the day before the primary, Trump announced "that ERIC has my Complete and Total Endorsement!" Both Greitens and Schmitt thirstily lapped up the statement as a bona fide expression of support, ignoring the fact that Trump pointedly did not choose between the two.

Unlike the lightning-rod Greitens, Schmitt has managed to avoid any toxic headlines throught the race, though his opponents have tried to portray him as being too close to China. Schmitt has also benefited from more outside spending than anyone else, and recent polls have shown the attorney general in the lead.

The Democrats have a primary battle of their own between Marine veteran Lucas Kunce and businesswoman Trudy Busch Valentine, though the winner will be a longshot, even if they get to face someone as tainted as Greitens. A onetime Republican, former U.S. Attorney John Wood, is also campaigning as an independent.

MO-01 (D) (78-20 Biden): Freshman Rep. Cori Bush pulled off a major upset two years ago when she unseated veteran Rep. Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary, and the high-profile progressive now faces four intra-party opponents in a St. Louis seat that only experienced small changes under the new map.

Bush’s main foe is state Sen. Steve Roberts, who has gone after Bush for casting a vote from the left against the Biden administration's infrastructure bill and has Clay’s backing. Bush's team, meanwhile, has highlighted accusations of sexual assault against Roberts by two different women in 2015 and 2017, though he was never charged in either case. A July poll showed the incumbent ahead 40-20.

MO-04 (R) (69-29 Trump): Seven Republicans are competing to replace Rep. Vicky Hartzler in what remains a safely red constituency in the western part of the state, and there’s no obvious frontrunner.

Cattle farmer Kalena Bruce has the backing of Gov. Mike Parson and the influential Missouri Farm Bureau, while state Sen. Rick Brattin has the prominent anti-abortion group Missouri Right to Life in his corner. Former Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks is the only other candidate who has held elected office, while former Kansas City TV anchor Mark Alford enjoys some local name recognition. Retired Navy SEAL Bill Irwin is the final candidate who has spent a notable amount of money.

Outside groups have almost completely focused on helping or hindering only two of the contenders. School Freedom Fund, which is an affiliate of the anti-tax Club for Growth, has spent over $1 million to support Brattin or attack Alford; two other organizations, the crypto-aligned American Dream Federal Action and Conservative Americans PAC have deployed a comparable sum to help Alford and weaken Brattin.

MO-07 (R) (70-28 Trump): The GOP has a similarly crowded eight-way race in southwestern Missouri to replace another Senate candidate, Rep. Billy Long, and no one has an obvious advantage here either. The field includes a trio of state senators, Eric Burlison, Mike Moon, and Jay Wasson, while another name to watch is Alex Bryant, a pastor who would be the first African American Republican to represent Missouri in Congress. The final candidate who has spent a notable amount is physician Sam Alexander.

Wasson, who is self-funding, has far outspent his competition, but Burlison’s allies at the Club for Growth have also dropped $1 million to stop him. The Club and the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus, likewise, have deployed almost $600,000 to promote Burlison. A third group, Conservative Americans PAC, has spent close to $700,000 to beat Burlison and a bit less than half of that to hit Moon.

Arizona

Polls close at 10 PM ET / 7 PM local time.

AZ-Sen (R) (49.2-48.9 Biden): Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly will be a top GOP target following his close win in 2020 for the final two years of the late John McCain's term, and five Republicans are competing to face him. Most polls show that the frontrunner is former Thiel Capital chief operating officer Blake Masters, who picked up Trump’s endorsement in June. Masters’ old boss, conservative mega donor Peter Thiel, has poured $15 million into a super PAC to support him, while the anti-tax Club for Growth is also spending on his behalf.

Masters’ main intra-party rival appears to be wealthy businessman Jim Lamon, who posted a lead in one recent survey. Lamon has tried to portray Masters as a phony conservative who only recently relocated to the state from California, and he’s also run a commercial using recent footage of his rival calling the Unabomber “a "subversive thinker that's underrated."

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, meanwhile, began the race looking like the frontrunner, but Trump loathes him for insufficiently advancing the Big Lie and he’s faded in recent months. State Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire round out the field.

AZ-Gov (R & D) (49.2-48.9 Biden): The Republican primary has turned into an expensive proxy battle between Trump and termed-out Gov. Doug Ducey, a one-time Trump ally who wound up in the MAGA doghouse after he refused to go along with Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election.

Trump is all in for Kari Lake, a former local TV anchor turned far-right conspiracy theorist. Ducey, meanwhile, is supporting Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, who has used her wealth to massively outspent Lake. Former Rep. Matt Salmon, who was the 2002 nominee, is also on the ballot along with two others, though he ended his campaign in June and endorsed Robson. Most polls show Lake ahead, though a Robson internal had the race tied.

Robson and her allies are trying to pull off an upset by highlighting Lake’s past as a supporter of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and they got some help in June from an unexpected source. After Lake targeted drag performances as "grooming" and "child abuse," a prominent Phoenix drag queen named Richard Stevens responded by posting images of the two together during their now-severed friendship and revealing that he’d performed for her multiple times. The story wound up in an anti-Lake ad in which another drag queen said that the candidate is “not just a fake, she's a phony'.”

The Democratic side has been a far more low-key affair, though there’s been little recent polling. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has been the frontrunner from the start, and she’s enjoyed a big financial advantage over former Homeland Security official Marco López.

AZ-01 (R & D) (50-49 Biden): Republican Rep. David Schweikert is seeking re-election in a reconfigured seat in the eastern Phoenix area that’s more competitive than his existing 6th District, but he needs to get through an expensive and ugly primary before he can worry about that. Businessman Elijah Norton has enjoyed a huge spending advantage thanks to his personal wealth, and he’s aired ads attacking Schweikert over a major scandal that resulted in the incumbent admitting to 11 different violations of congressional rules and campaign finance laws in 2020.

Schweikert, for his part, has focused on Norton's turbulent departure from his insurance company. The congressman has also circulated mailers showing his challenger and a male friend with the caption, “Elijah Norton isn't being straight with you.” Norton quickly fired back with a defamation lawsuit accusing Schweikert of falsely insinuating that he’s gay. The field also includes Josh Barnett, who badly lost a 2020 race against Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego but could cost Norton some much-needed anti-incumbent votes.

The Democratic contest between Jevin Hodge, who lost a tight 2020 race for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and former Phoenix Suns employee Adam Metzendorf has been far less incendiary. Hodge, who would be Arizona’s first Black congressman, has far outspent his rival, and the DCCC backed him in June.

AZ-02 (R) (53-45 Trump): Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran is defending a seat in northern and eastern rural Arizona that’s considerably more conservative than the 1st District he holds now, and seven Republicans are competing to face him. One of them, Navy SEAL veteran Eli Crane, picked up Donald Trump’s endorsement in the final weeks of the race, a decision that earned Trump loud boos at his rally a few hours later (possibly because of a coordinated effort by opponents who've criticized him for not living in the district).

Crane himself released a survey before he earned Trump’s nod showing him in the lead with 19% while state Rep. Walt Blackman and businessman Mark DeLuzio tied 12-12 for second. Outside groups have spent $1 million to either promote Crane or attack Blackman, a fellow Big Lie promoter who would be the state’s first Black member of Congress. The field also includes Ron Watkins, the reputed founder of the QAnon conspiracy cult, though he’s raised little.

AZ-04 (R) (54-44 Biden): Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton faces six Republicans in a seat based in the southern Phoenix suburbs that is considerably more competitive than the 9th District he now serves. The GOP establishment has consolidated behind Tanya Wheeless, a former president of the Arizona Bankers Association. Her best-funded rival is restaurant owner Kelly Cooper, who has financed most of his campaign himself, while Chandler City Councilman Rene Lopez is also in. Outside groups have deployed over $1 million to support Wheeless and bash Cooper.

AZ-06 (D & R) (49.3-49.2 Biden): Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick announced her retirement last year before Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission drew up a new Tucson-based seat that’s well to the right of her current 2nd District, and both parties have contested primaries to succeed her.

The Democratic side pits former state Rep. Daniel Hernández, who as an intern helped save then-Rep. Gabby Giffords after she was shot in 2011, against state Sen. Kirsten Engel; a third candidate, engineer Avery Anderson, hasn't earned much attention. Both candidates have brought in a comparable amount of money, and major outside groups haven’t been involved here.

Until recently, the Republican primary looked like it would be an easy win for Juan Ciscomani, a former senior advisor to Gov. Doug Ducey who has far outraised his five intra-party foes. But things got more interesting in the final days when the House GOP’s main super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, spent over $1 million to support Ciscomani, whose decision to campaign as a unifier may not be resonating with the primary electorate.

Ciscomani’s main rival appears to be former mortgage banker Kathleen Winn, who has thrown far more red meat to the base. Winn has spread conspiracy theories insinuating that American leaders are “being paid off” by China and Russia, so naturally she has the backing of notorious far-right figures including Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Kari Lake, Trump’s candidate for governor.

AZ-AG (R) & AZ-SoS (R & D) (49.2-48.9 Biden): Both the offices of attorney general and secretary of state, which along with the governor are involved in certifying election results in the Grand Canyon State, are open, and Trump is backing an election conspiracy theorist for each.

Trump’s man in the six-way contest for attorney general is former prosecutor Abe Hamadeh, who has denied that Biden won the state. Hamadeh's intra-party foes are Tiffany Shedd, who lost a close general election last cycle in the 1st Congressional District against Rep. Tom O'Halleran; Rodney Glassman, a former Democrat who now sports an endorsement from far-right Rep. Paul Gosar; former prosecutor Lacy Cooper; former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould; and manufacturing executive Dawn Grove. The winner will go up against former Arizona Corporation Commission Chair Kris Mayes, who has no opposition in the Democratic primary.

Over in the four-way contest for secretary of state, Trump is backing state Rep. Mark Finchem, a QAnon supporter who led the failed effort to overturn Biden's victory and attended the Jan. 6 rally just ahead of the attack on the Capitol. Finchem faces two fellow legislators, state Rep. Shawnna Bolick and state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who have both promoted voter suppression measures. The final candidate is advertising executive Beau Lane, who has Gov. Doug Ducey’s endorsement and is the one candidate who acknowledges Biden’s win.

The Democratic contest for secretary of state pits state House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding against Adrian Fontes, who narrowly lost re-election in 2020 as Maricopa County clerk. A recent poll for an unnamed super PAC put Fontes ahead 44-29, but a pro-Bolding group gave their candidate a 35-30 advantage.

Other Arizona races to watch: Maricopa County, AZ Attorney

Washington

Polls close at 11 PM ET / 8 PM local time.

Washington’s top-two primary requires all candidates to compete on one ballot rather than in separate party primaries. The two contenders with the most votes, regardless of party, advance to the Nov. 8 general election. Candidates cannot win outright in August by taking a majority of the vote.

WA-03 (51-46 Trump): Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler earned herself a prominent place on Trump's shitlist after she voted for impeachment, and she now faces four fellow Republicans, two Democrats, and two unaffiliated candidates in this southwest Washington constituency that's very similar to her previous district. Trump himself is pulling for Joe Kent, an Army veteran who has defended Putin's invasion of Ukraine and has ties to far-right extremists.

An outside group called Conservatives for A Stronger America, though, has spent over $1 million to attack Kent and elevate a third Republican, evangelical author Heidi St. John. Kent has argued that this organization is trying to “prop up a spoiler candidate and split the vote” in order to help Herrera Beutler advance to the general election, though he’s trying something similar on a smaller scale. His campaign has sent out mail pieces highlighting how the only serious Democratic candidate, auto repair shop owner Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, is the one "pro-choice candidate for Congress,” a move aimed at costing Herrera Beutler Democratic votes. The field also includes GOP state Rep. Vicki Kraft, though she’s earned little notice.

WA-04 (57-40 Trump): Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, who also voted for impeachment, faces six intra-party opponents in this largely unchanged eastern Washington constituency, while businessman Doug White is the one Democrat in the running. Trump has thrown his support behind 2020 gubernatorial nominee Loren Culp, an ex-cop who has refused to recognize his decisive loss to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, but he’s badly struggled with fundraising.

Defending Main Street, which is aligned with the GOP leadership, has spent over $1 million praising Newhouse and attacking Culp, while the challenger has received no major outside help. Team Red’s field also includes self-funding businessman Jerrod Sessler and state Rep. Brad Klippert.

WA-08 (52-45 Biden): Three notable Republicans are challenging Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier in what remains a competitive seat in suburban Seattle.

Schrier's most familiar foe is 2020 nominee Jesse Jensen, who unexpectedly held her to a 52-48 win last time despite bringing in little money and is proving to be a considerably stronger fundraiser this time. Another well-established Republican is King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who was the 2012 nominee for attorney general; Dunn is the son of the late Rep. Jennifer Dunn, who represented previous versions of this constituency from 1993 to 2005. Team Red's field also includes another failed candidate for attorney general, 2020 nominee Matt Larkin.

Jensen has outspent his intra-party rivals, and he’s also benefited from over $300,000 in support from a super PAC set up to help him. The group’s efforts include ads against Dunn, including mailers highlighting his past struggles with alcoholism.

Other Washington races to watch: WA-SoS

Missouri’s three Republican Senate candidates are leading the race to be worse than Trump

At the end of the current term, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt has said he’ll end his run as the head of the Blunt Family Lobbying Enterprises. Which leaves an opening for a new senator in an increasingly red state that Trump took by over 15% in 2020. 

Back in 2012, Todd Akin led in the polls over Claire McCaskill until his comments about how women rarely get pregnant from "legitimate rape" generated a national firestorm. But that was 2012. It’s clear that a decade later, such a comment wouldn’t make a single Republican turn away. In fact, everything that Akin said could very well be a required Republican “wisdom” by the time the election rolls around.

In any case, the opportunity to slip into Blunt’s extraordinarily lucrative slot has Republicans scrambling out of the woodwork, and Missouri has already lined up three candidates who could not be better examples of a modern major Republican. Seriously. It’s a smorgasbord of choices that make the shrimp buffet at Mar-a-Lago seem insufficiently Trumptastic. Because those choices are: The ex-governor who resigned in the midst of a sex scandal, the attorney general who is suing China over COVID-19, and the guy whose fame entirely rests on waving around an AR-15 while wearing a pink polo shirt.

In the race to the bottom, Missouri has pulled out a really big shovel.

Not every candidate is officially in the running at this point, except that they’re all very much officially in the running when it comes to slapping palms, building up their war chests, and securing their place as the most GD ridiculous choices imaginable. Because in the GQP, candidates are scored on outrageousness.

First up is Eric Greitens. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Greitens already won the more-ridiculous-than-thou sweepstakes once. In 2016, Greitens jumped into the campaign for Missouri governor, lifting a list of donor names from a charity and knocking down the largest campaign donation in Missouri history—$1.97 million—from a super PAC that had been completely unknown until the moment it wrote that check. That super PAC turned out to be just a cover for another super PAC. And that super PAC turned out to be a front for wealthy Ohio attorney David Langdon, whose primary issues were, of course, blocking a woman’s right to choose and rolling back gay rights. None of this was revealed during the campaign, during which Greitens promised radical transparency while running commercials that featured blowing things up. And shooting things. Then blowing up more things. Really. 

But it wasn’t the multiple investigations into his charity or his extensive resume padding that ultimately brought down Greitens. That came courtesy of a scandal in which the governor admitted to having an extramarital affair with his hairdresser. During this affair he tied her up, blindfolded her, took nude photos, and threatened to reveal the photos if she ever went public. Greitens ended up being investigated by none other than then state attorney general Josh Hawley—showing that Missouri was already primed for a face-off of Republicans in the search for the limits of sanity. The charges against Greitens were eventually dropped after the photos could not be found, but an investigation by the Republican-dominated legislature led to Greitens getting out of Jefferson City just ahead of an impeachment that had been signed on to by three-quarters of each chamber.

The next choice for Republicans seeking a candidate in 2022 is another Eric: Missouri’s current attorney general, Eric Schmitt. Schmitt’s name may also be somewhat familiar to those outside the Show-me State became he was the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association. That would be the Republican Attorneys General Association that worked closely with Trump to undermine the results of the 2020 election. In fact, Schmitt’s name was one of those on the suit that the RAGA sent to the Supreme Court when it challenged the election results in Pennsylvania—an effort the Republican-heavy Court promptly swatted down. Schmitt was also on hand for multiple attempts to overturn Obamacare.

In the last few weeks, Schmitt had resigned his position with RAGA to concentrate on his Senate run. First task: doing something even more outrageous to solidify his position with the frothing Republican base. But what could he do that would be more foolish, more out there, and more slavishly Trump-worshipping than trying to directly intervene in the election? Well, how about launching a stunt lawsuit against China over the COVID-19 pandemic and hurting Asian Americans in the process? Schmitt dropped off his paperwork at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, claiming that Chinese authorities “deceived the public, suppressed information and permitted millions of people to be exposed to the virus.” It’s a suit that’s doing nothing other than allowing Schmitt to say “China virus” in every media appearance—but it is a solid way to harness taxpayer funds and xenophobic hate to bolster his chance in this three-way race.

The third (and for now, final) choice for Republicans is another name that’s been in the news before: Mark McCloskey. You may remember McCloskey for his role in standing behind his wife while they both waved guns at protesters who had the audacity to “walk past his house.” Or you may know this fabulously wealthy ambulance-chasing attorney from his lifetime role of being an absolutely massive a**hole. That includes the time that he smashed bee hives belonging to a Jewish synagogue, which had planned to use the honey for Rosh Hashanah.  (“The children were crying in school,” said Rabbi Susan Talve. “It was part of our curriculum.”) 

When Black Lives Matter protesters dared pass through his gated community on their way to the home of St. Louis’ mayor, McCloskey and his wife Patricia rushed out to turn this into a totally unnecessary confrontation. Though you would never know this from the way McCloskey has been feted on Fox News, or how the couple has become a right-wing symbol of standing their ground … against people who were not on their ground.

Of the three, McCloskey may be the only one who has already kicked out a campaign ad for his senatorial run, and it’s a doozy. “When the angry mob came to destroy my house and kill my family,” McCloskey says at the beginning of the ad, “I took a stand against them.”

Strangely enough, the “angry mob” didn’t destroy any homes, or kill anyone at all on their march through the city. But sure. That’s the kind of talk that earned McCloskey a guest role in several Trump rallies.

But that’s not even the best part of the ad. The best part has to be how America’s most infamous wearer of a too-small pink polo, a personal injury lawyer whose home is a baroque mansion so gaudy that it would make Gaudi scream, is featured in his ad driving a tractor and emerging from a tiny country home. It may seem counter to the intention of this article and site to actually run a Republican candidate’s campaign ad in full but hell … this one deserves to be seen. 

After all, Schitt’s Creek may be over. But with Schmitt, Greitens, and McCloskey, it’s clear that Missouri is really going down the toilet.

Greitens’ campaign off to a great start after conservative hosts asks about ‘half-rape’ allegation

In June 2018, the young GOP governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens, best known for mowing down trees with a high-caliber assault weapon during his elections campaign ads, was forced to resign in disgrace. Greitens’ former hairdresser, with whom Greitens had been carrying on an extramarital affair, accused the then-governor of sexual assault, battery, kidnapping, and blackmail. Greitens was indicted on two charges of first-degree felony invasion of privacy and a completely unrelated charge of computer tampering. Greitens had come into office on the Trump-train, bullying and angry and with such a high regard for himself that it took a Missouri GOP willing to impeach Greitens—after releasing a damning report supporting the credibility of the woman Greitens allegedly brutalized—and months of intra-party fighting before he agreed to resign. Greitens’ agreement to leave office without completely blowing up his political party seemed to include a resolution of the computer tampering charges, which were promptly dropped.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker subsequently declined to bring a full case against Greitens for the sexual assault and other charges stemming out of the extramarital affair he had with his former hairdresser. The charges alleged Greitens tied up his former hairdresser and took compromising photographs of the woman, which he then threatened to expose her with. Greitens also reportedly coerced the victim into oral sex and “struck her.” At the time, Baker said that while “there was probable cause for sexual assault,” the statute of limitations had passed on some of the charges already, and “31,000 files had disappeared from Greitens' phone between an April review conducted by his legal team and a forensic examination in May ordered by a St. Louis judge.” Baker explained that with so much potential evidence destroyed, her office did not think it likely she could get a conviction on the charges. That’s what happened with Eric Greitens. That’s why he wasn’t convicted of a crime. Ironically (or poetically), on his way out the door of the governor’s mansion, Greitens signed off on a bill that criminalized some of the stuff he himself was allegedly guilty of. 

Since then Greitens, like a true sociopath, has been working the newest GOP policy strategy: Just lie like you believe the lie and maybe everyone will believe the lie. 

On Wednesday, Greitens was a guest on Salem Radio Network's The Hugh Hewitt Show, where he proceeded to attack the victim, revising the facts of the case of his alleged assault. Added to this cauldron of misogyny was Hewitt’s bizarre make-it-up belittling of the charges against him. Media Matters reports that during the interview, ostensibly about Greitens attempt to win the Republican nomination for Missouri governor this year, Hewitt asked Greitens if that thing that happened less than 30 months ago might come up—you know, the thing that ended with allegations that Eric Greitens assaulted, abused, kidnapped, and threatened a woman he had admitted to having an extramarital affair with? But Hugh did not ask it like that. He said this: “Look, you're talking to a Republican. I just want to win the Senate, Eric, and I'm afraid you'll be Todd Aikin 2.0. I'm afraid Todd Aikin got killed over ‘legitimate rape’ and in this Missouri report, you are accused by a witness of half-rape. What are you going to do when the ads attack you of half-rape?”

”Half-rape.” It’s so beyond the pale it is hard to put into words what a waste of carbon Hugh Hewitt is. The allegations against Greitens are graphic and include his accuser being repeatedly slapped and hit and sexually assaulted by Greitens. Then threatened with blackmail by Greitens. Candidate Greitens wants Hewitt and his listeners to know that the woman who said he coerced her into performing oral sex while she wept uncontrollably on a basement floor was paid off. “You gotta look at the facts. Here's the facts, sir. Again, $120,000 cash bribe was paid and the person who you're referencing said that they might be remembering their accusations through a dream.” 

Let’s first talk about this “dream” remark by Greitens. What he and his team of dozens of lawyers jumped on was the assertion his accuser made that while she was tied up and blindfolded, "I can hear like a, like a cell phone – like a picture, and I can see a flash through the blindfold." This photograph, mind you, exists. Greitens has been very cagey about whether or not he took the photo—a photo that exists. But, during a seven-hour deposition by defense lawyers, the woman said that she could not recall ever seeing Greitens in possession of a camera or a phone.

When the defense counsel asked the woman, "Did you ever see (Greitens) in possession of a camera or phone?" she answered: "Not to my knowledge. I didn’t see him with it."

An assistant circuit attorney asked the woman, "Did you see what you believed to be a phone?"

She answered, "… I haven’t talked about it because I don’t know if it’s because I’m remembering it through a dream or I – I’m not sure, but yes, I feel like I saw it after that happened, but I haven’t spoken about it because of that."

Special prosecutor Baker, when holding her press conference about the charges and the suspiciously missing evidence, made it clear that the woman charged was courageous and believable in every respect. "What is important to note about this victim through all of this is that she did not waver. Though she repeatedly faced a large, aggressive team of expensive lawyers — I’m told that list may be as high as 40 lawyers — she held her own."

The “$120,000 cash bribe,” Greitens throws in there refers to the money that was reportedly paid out to the lawyer of the woman’s ex-husband—who was also possibly working for a “wealthy Republican who did not like Greitens and that it was personal,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times in 2018. But let us be clear here: That $120,000 seems to have gone to the ex-husband’s lawyer and the ex-husband to release the photograph and a recording of the woman admitting to the affair and Greitens’ criminal behavior. That money did not go to the woman, and that woman has gotten nothing but heartache and abuse, publicly and privately, for her unfortunate connection to the former disgrace of a Navy SEAL. 

Greitens, a man in his 40s, clearly only resigned because he would have been impeached otherwise, and has been working to quickly rebuild his brand of former Navy SEAL-turned politician by restarting the clock, with rumors that he would return to the Navy to be redeployed in the field of combat.  Whether or not Greitens really planned to do that, whether or not the Navy actually would want him back, all disappeared into the news cycle. But Greitens did make one thing clear—he wants to be Missouri’s governor in 2022. The GOP is hoping that the former alleged sexual assaulter and corrupt public official won’t win the primary nomination. Of course, the Republican Party made this bed of sociopathic snakes so … they get what they vote for. And a reminder, Greitens’ short time in office included actions like signing anti-labor right-to-work laws along with almost $150 million in cuts to education and voting. He believes in pushing the policies of the Republican Party—a Party that represents people like Greitens.

Huge Hewitt has been a right-wing hack for a long time, and like all hacks, the Trump administration and its failures exposed the levels of self-degradation people like Hewitt were willing to sink to in order to stay in power and money. Like many of the archaic hucksters with right-wing microphones, Hewitt at one point in his career had been able to hide behind a “genial, agreeable style that the Beltway media mistook as thoughtful analysis.”